Opera as Idea and Performance: Class 1

The first week of spring quarter is just about to wrap up and I have to say that the opera class I am auditing (unfortunately I can’t take it for credit because I’ve got 4 classes I have to take for my major…) is going to be the best part of spring quarter.

The class is jointly taught by Professor Martha Nussbaum of the Law School and Mr. Anthony Freud, General Director of Lyric Opera. It’s my first class ever in the Law School, which is an incredible place that I have neglected to explore over the past couple of years that I’ve been working at UChicago, so just being in another environment (south of the Midway haha) has been a nice change for this quarter.

What I love about having the class jointly taught is the combination of both Professor Nussbaum’s and Mr. Freud’s expertise truly elucidates further the complex nature of opera, whether from a theoretical/philosophical perspective or the more applied/modern perspective. And, the fact that each class revolves around one opera and will feature some special guests is definitely going to bring a unique and fun experience each week and make this quarter go way faster than it did last quarter…

For the first class on Tuesday, we focused on Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea. The only recording that I could get my hands on from the library was Harnoncourt’s 1974 recording, which was actually the first recording made without cuts. We listened to and watched various excerpts of the opera in class (including a production that Mr. Freud oversaw years ago) and learned about the Greek tragedic origins of opera – which I’m proud to say that I knew stuff about because I actually did (and liked) the reading of Aristotle’s Poetics in my humanities class last year haha. Anyways, we also discussed what are the biggest challenges in presenting good opera today, such as the relationship between the conductor and the stage director, staying true to the intentions of the composer/librettist, the historical context of L’incoronazione di Poppea, etc. These are also topics that will extend into future classes, especially when special guests like Lyric Music Director, Sir Andrew Davis, visits us. There was also a lively debate between Freud and Nussbaum on whether Joan Sutherland could compare to Maria Callas, where Freud staunchly defended Sutherland against Nussbaum’s criticisms (and also gave some humorous vignettes about her).

Also, Mr. Freud actually still remembers me from the Bel Canto event at the Chicago Public Library last autumn (and from seeing me at Lyric productions various times haha), and was incredibly enthusiastic about me working as a University Ambassador for Lyric! We’re both planning on (shamelessly) promoting Lyric throughout the class 😀

Next week’s class is focused on Mozart’s Don Giovanni. I’ve already got Muti’s version with the VPO on my iTunes, so I’ll be listening to that throughout the weekend. Robert Falls, who directed Lyric’s production of Don Giovanni in 2014, will be joining us next week – can’t wait!


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