Opera as Idea and Performance: Last 3 classes!

Well it’s finals week, and spring quarter is about to wrap up! (I have a physics final in about an hour, haha – but it’s the last test of the school year!) I realized that I haven’t blogged in a while – lots of midterms/problem sets and IME obligations have kept me super busy! The opera class I’ve been taking this quarter finished about three weeks ago, so I’ll share a bit on each of the last three classes. What an incredible experience this all was, and hopefully I get the opportunity to take more classes like this (probably won’t happen because I just filled out my course registration for next quarter, and my next two years are basically jam-packed with either chemistry or engineering classes :(, but fingers are crossed!).

Class 6: Strauss’ Elektra, special guest: dramaturg, Colin Ure

This class was primarily divided into three main topics: 1) a sneak peek at Lyric’s upcoming Ring Cycle, which will take place from 2016-2020, 2) the idea of revenge in the music of Strauss’ Elektra, and 3) the role of supertitles in the opera house.

I won’t say too much on the sneak peek that Anthony gave us on the Ring Cycle, except that audiences should definitely look forward to the next couple of years! Das Rheingold will be opening Lyric’s season this fall, and the rest of the cycle will be spread out through the following years up to 2020. As for Elektra, we actually didn’t get to talk too much about it – but Prof. Nussbaum made a lot of interesting comments on the idea of revenge in the opera, especially the way that Strauss’ music conveyed the “enervating futility” of revenge. She also compared and contrasted the conception of revenge between Strauss and Verdi, noting that Verdi doesn’t truly understand revenge and thinks of it as more of a heroic idea (examples include Di quella pira in Il trovatore and the Act 2 duet in Rigoletto), instead of a dark, ugly, and deformative agent that Strauss clearly understood. I don’t think that Verdi was necessarily wrong in interpreting revenge though – his interpretations are totally valid. Revenge, like all other emotions, are complex and can be interpreted and expressed in multiple ways! Just as an example – in Verdi’s Falstaff, when the wives are planning out their revenge on Falstaff, it doesn’t sound at all like heroic music, even though it may not be as “dark” as Strauss’ music. Verdi’s music, in this instance, clearly portrays the wives carefully and meticuously crafting a grand plan against Falstaff, as evident through the repetitive sharp and pointed syllables and notes. There are loads of other instances in Falstaff, or in other Verdi operas like Nabucco and Attila, that would also run counter to this argument, in my opinion at least 😀

We also learned a lot about supertitles from Colin Ure, who has done a number of supertitles for Lyric, including this season’s Le Nozze di Figaro. I had no idea about the rather extensive history of supertitles, so it was cool to listen to someone who has had a lot of experience with creating supertitles for various operas.

Class 7: Verdi’s Don Carlo, special guest: Lyric chorus master, Michael Black

Finally – a class on Verdi!! Anthony prefaced his lecture with the fact that technically we could have spent an entire quarter focusing on just Verdi, considering his evolution from his early works of Nabucco, Attila, etc. to his late works Otello, Falstaff, etc., which I would definitely take if it was ever offered. Don Carlo was picked for this class primarily because of the importance of politics in the opera, which connected to the importance of politics in many of Verdi’s works, like Nabucco. Verdi was also very involved with politics in his life, being a part of the risorgimento (the Italian unification movement, for which his Nabucco Act 3 chorus of Va, Pensiero, became really well-known)  – in fact, VERDI is also an acronym for “Vittorio Emanuele, Re DItalia,” referring to Vittorio Emanuele, who was a key leader of the risorgimento

In addition to the focus on Verdi’s Don Carlo (for preparation, I listened to Muti’s version featuring Pavarotti :D), Michael Black, the chorus master of Lyric Opera, talked a lot about the role of the chorus master and his own specific duties, as well as the different business aspects of managing the chorus. It was interesting to learn how that in the chorus, most of the singers are (or were) aspiring soloists, so it’s up to the chorus master to manage all these different (and sometimes difficult) personalities in order to create a unified sound for the opera. Additionally, I didn’t realize the complex business aspects of having a chorus, such as union relations/discussions and the different components of the contracts for each of the chorus members. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much discussion in how the chorus figures prominently in Verdi’s music, with just a short mention of the chorus in Nabucco singing Va, Pensiero. (Side note: I saw a live broadcast of the Royal Opera House’s production of Nabucco yesterday, with Placido Domingo singing the title role – even at 75, his Dio di guida was the best part of the opera! I mean, don’t get me wrong – Va, Pensiero is great Hopefully I get to see him next year when comes back to Lyric – he’s going to perform in the entire second act of La Traviata!!)

Class 8: Rossini’s La Cenerentola, special guest: costume designer, Ana Kuzmanic

And finally, the eighth and final opera class session of the quarter focused on Rossini’s La Cenerentola. Our special guest was costume designer, Ana Kuzmanic, who designed the costumes for the production of Don Giovanni that was directed by Robert Falls (who visited the second week of class). She gave a very detailed presentation on all the different types of costumes she’s created for both theater and opera, and it was incredible to see her artistry come alive in the costumes! Our TA also gave a guest lecture on the concept and history of bel canto opera, which was very cool to learn about!



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