Manon: Thoughts on the Opera

A few weeks ago I attended my very first opera. I’ve been to twenty one Broadway musicals but never an opera. My friends and I dressed for the occasion, not because we had to, but rather for the heck of it. The Lyric Opera of Chicago is a truly beautiful building; the theater is tall and rounded so that every seat is a good one. Danny somehow had managed to find $20 orchestra tickets. He wagers they were really worth $160. Mwahaha.

The curtains opened up to a stage bustling with people. In the background there sat rows of people who looked down upon a tavern scene. It was as though they completed the other half of an amphitheater. The ladies of the tavern mostly appeared lewd and crude, moving around from one gentleman’s lap to the next. Dancers popped in and out here and there. Bawdy is the appropriate term. And then the singing began. And it did not stop. Not for another four hours.

I didn’t mind so much, but what I could not understand in my opera naiveté was why they needed to sing for everything. “Why do you doubt me,” sang a large-chested baritone, “for whenever before have I given up an opportunity to go drinking?” I got used to this emphatic pronouncement of mundane activities, but I still do not understand why it was necessary to sing about them with such gusto. In a musical, the fact that there is a song indicates particular importance of an event or emotion. In an opera the clues are not so obvious. I suspect that such clues are in the music itself. In order to fully appreciate an opera, you need to listen to the music itself to understand the extent of sadness, joy, exuberance and grief. If an event is important, somehow the tones, the instrumentation, or the key change will let you know. This unfortunately did not occur to me until after the opera. I was too busy trying to figure out what was going on.

It took forever for the leading lady to die. I wonder if that is normal.

Overall, I emerged from the Opera thoroughly impressed. The idea that humans can create such powerful sounds with their bodies cannot help but to impress, especially considering the leading lady was a TINY woman. How could such a small thing produce so big a sound? Simply Amazing. Though I do not think this one visit instantly transformed me into an opera enthusiast, I am nonetheless pleased I went.

There was no fat lady. It therefore was hard to tell when it was over.


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