Since our hacker friend Dzz screwed up both our morning posts yesterday, I thought we would take a very quick break from Jules Shear and talk briefly about opera. I understand: pretty much no one I know likes opera. I used to be the same way. But when I was still in high school, I had a piano teacher. He was also a singer, and he taught singing to some of the talented young people in the area. He was not a very pleasant man — he terrified me. But one day he told me that a student of his was going be giving a recital at the local college. So I went.
The singer was a soprano — perhaps 19 years old. And she was accompanied by my teacher on the piano. And I was blown away. It was only then that I heard the human voice as a musical instrument and not just something for communicating with. So I enjoyed the performance the same way I would have enjoyed a violin recital. And ever since then, I’ve taken it for granted that opera is beautiful and worthy. And it still shocks me to hear someone say, “I don’t like opera.” To me, that sounds like, “I don’t like music.”
But in addition, opera is theater. I remember reading something that Mozart had written about a performance of Hamlet. And he nailed everything that was wrong in the play. The greatest opera composers were also great theater technicians. I thought about this because this morning, I was listening to Carmen. I came upon the following clip from the Royal Opera House production of it. It is, arguably, the most famous song from Carmen, the “Habanera” or “Love Is a Rebellious Bird.” (It’s hard to say, because the music from Carmen is incredibly well known, and you probably could sing at least five of its main melodies.)
This production is everything that opera can be — and indeed very often is these days. Broadway musicals try to do this kind of stuff and almost always fail miserably by comparison. You can well imagine that a man would desert the army and his bride for Anna Caterina Antonacci in this short scene. I remember a line from Amadeus, “Only opera can do this!” I quite agree.
Think about this: every one in that chorus is an incredibly good — even great — singer. That kind of thing always amazes me. The talent of humanity is amazing.