Opera as Idea and Performance: Class 4/5

We’re about halfway through spring quarter, and I can’t believe how fast it’s been going so far. I haven’t updated on the last two opera classes from the past two weeks yet, so I figured I’d blog about both here!

For the fourth class, we studied Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, otherwise known as the Ring Cycle. Admittedly, I didn’t listen to the whole cycle (as I spent most of my time listening to Toscanini and Abbado’s versions of Falstaff to prepare for last week’s CSO concert performances), but I did listen to the first of the four operas that comprise the cycle: Das Rheingold. I think if I had a good chunk of free time where I could just concentrate on the entire cycle (about 15 hours in length!), I’d probably appreciate Wagner’s work a whole lot more, and considering that The Lord of the Rings is my favorite story of all time, I know that this is a work that I would love to study more closely and in-depth. Anyways, baritone/bass Eric Owens was our special guest for the class and flew in all the way from New York (where he is currently starring in Strauss’ Elektra at the Met, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen – and the opera that we’re studying for next week’s class), to discuss the Ring Cycle. He is going to be the new Wotan in Lyric’s upcoming Ring Cycle, which begins this fall! Surprisingly, a lot of the discussion in that class centered around Maestro Muti (he pops up everywhere!), as we talked a lot about the relationship between the conductor and the singer, and Owens mentioned that Muti was really one of only a handful of conductors who understands how to bring out the absolute best in a singer in relation to the opera (I totally agree)!

The next class, which was this past Monday, focused on Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd, and featured special guest Sir Andrew Davis, music director of Lyric Opera – which was especially cool, considering that we had a British conductor talk about one of the most famous British composers. Plus, I’ve gotten the chance to hear Sir Andrew conduct a couple of operas over the past season, including The Merry Widow, Wozzeck, and Bel Canto, so it was awesome that I finally got the chance to meet him! After class, he said that he recognized me…but I’m pretty sure that he’s never met me before, so maybe he was saying that to be polite?..Still pretty cool though 😀

Anyways, I had never listened to Britten before, so it was nice to get the chance to listen to some new music. This opera also was the first opera that we studied that had a bit of a stronger connection to law themes, which made Professor Nussbaum’s insights super interesting. She talked a lot about the historical legal context of the opera, the philosophical underpinnings that governed the decisions made by certain characters like Captain Vere, and the symbolic nature of each of the main characters.

As for other music updates, I’ve got my free ticket to Lyric’s The King and I (which just opened tonight) for late next month. And earlier this week on Tuesday, at the last performance of Falstaff, I got to meet the cast backstage (plus Maestro Muti!!) – Ambrogio Maestri is not only one of the top opera singers of today, but he’s also incredibly gracious and kind and was totally willing to take photos and sign autographs! I’ll update my previous Falstaff post with some of the photos from the night!

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