Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Sound of Music: The Classics - Opera Part 1

I've never seen a live, full opera performance. And truth be told, I was not sure if I wanted to. I'm not an opera person. I don't understand what they're saying, and I am not drawn to the music. Just to be clear, it's not a language or music thing. I like foreign films--especially when they are entertaining. And I love musicals--I enjoy the great songs and lively dances. Opera just does not seem to be as appealing to me as other forms of stage productions and performances.

But there are some opera songs that I find incredibly entertaining and enthralling. And I'm going to share some of my fave opera songs with you. Most of these I heard of and discovered through other media, like tv shows and films. But the majority of them, I discovered by chance while listening to the late night a.m. radio back on the farm when I was a small child. They left quite an impression on me. And they actually make me think that if the opportunity presented itself, I would like to go see an opera, just to experience it for myself.

Well, after researching a little more about opera, I've learned that to understand and appreciate opera, you have to read the story about the opera before seeing it. That way, you know what's going on! Spoilers are essential in opera. There's no narrator. You have to know the story to follow along.

So far, I've read a few of the operas, and they are either depressing or just gawd awful with the tragic endings! I like happy endings. I really prefer the Bugs Bunny versions of opera! Thankfully, there are plenty of other operas with happy endings. Those, I definitely plan to see when the opportunity arises. I just need to find out where to get those fancy opera glasses, or perhaps my hiking binoculars will do.

That said, I may just see the tragic ones, too, if only to hear the live performances of these awesome songs. Your experience and advice on opera is appreciated and welcomed!

As always, if the music clips don't play, please let me know so that I can fix them. Or you can also click on the song title to open the song using your own media player or to download the song to listen to later.

Here are my fave, enchanting opera songs. I hope you enjoy them. Part 1 discusses Carmen, The Barber of Seville, Turandot, and the song Bolero. See Part 2 here. Part 2 discusses Pagliacci, La Traviata, Rigoletto, and The Magic Flute. See Part 3 here. Part 3 discusses Madama Butterfly, Gianni Schicchi, and Lakmé.

Maurice Ravel: Boléro

Three words: Torvill and Dean.

Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics

At the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean made history by putting on an extraordinary performance and scoring a perfect 6.0 in artistic scores from all 9 judges; plus three 6.0 and six 5.9 for technical marks in their free dance. They became the first (and only) figure skaters to achieve straight perfect scores from all 9 judges in the artistic component, and with the three perfect scores in technical, made for 12 perfect scores in a single program!

Torvill and Dean revolutionized ice dancing by breaking with tradition, performing innovative dance choreography and using a single piece of music, Bolero, to create and sustain an enchanting mood that captivated and thrilled the judges and audiences. They became the highest scoring figure skaters ever and took home the gold for Great Britain.

I was a small child when I first saw a recording of that amazing performance. I was awestruck by the dazzling dancing and the intriguing music. That's when I first heard Boléro, and I became hooked on figure skating at the Olympics.

Technically, Boléro is not an opera. It is a ballet piece. But I put it in the opera category here, because I always hear this piece playing alongside opera songs. Also, a lot of opera houses showcase Boléro. For me, it exemplifies that exotic and alluring quality of great opera songs. So excuse me for including Boléro here with opera, but to me, they share that same hypnotic and fascinating sound; they also share the same strange yet intriguing and dramatic qualities.

Carmen Poster for Grand Rapids Opera, 2014 by Edel Rodríguez

Georges Bizet: Carmen, Act I: Habanera - L'amour est un oiseau rebelle

I was introduced to this opera song by a spectacular Sesame Street short: An orange fruit character was making up her face and singing the aria, Habanera from Carmen. It was a memorable performance that sticks out in my head after all these years. And to this day, everytime I hear this song, I think of that orange singing.

The Story Summary:

Set in 19th century Seville, Spain. A woman named Carmen, free spirited, somewhat vain, flirts to get her way. She notices a soldier José, who pays her no attention. So she sets out to seduce him. José has a fiancé taking care of his mother.

A fight breaks out in which Carmen is involved. She is arrested, flirts with José, and convinces him to let her escape. He is arrested for letting her go. She hangs out with criminal elements. Flirts with other men to make a newly released José jealous. Then manipulates him to join her in a life of crime.

Soon, he regrets his actions, encounters his fiancé, and leaves with her to go see his dying mother. The whole time, Carmen insults him. He promises to return to her.

Carmen then flirts with a popular toreador, a bullfighter. She has a history of messing with him. As he becomes famous, Carmen declares her love for him publicly. Her criminal friends warn her that José has returned for her. She states that she does not care.

José confronts her and declares his love. She denies him and proclaims herself free. In the heat of the moment, he stabs her. She dies. The crowd cheers in the background for the slaying of a bull by the toreador. He confesses to her murder.

My initial reaction:

What the F*ck!?! I'm not sure if I like the characters. The heroine manipulates people and is killed for pushing people too far. The killer was once an upstanding lawman who was swayed into a life of crime, abandoning his values in the vain hope of finding love from someone who only loves herself. It's a messy ending for a messy affair. This isn't a love story. It's a story about power and the self destructive and flawed nature of people.

My thoughts:

Ordinarily, I avoid tragic, gawd awful plots like this. There are Korean soap operas with better plots and more engaging characters! But I'll make an exception here. I'll see it, just so I can hear the songs. I want to see if anyone can match the outstanding performance by the singing orange from Sesame Street.

Gioachino Rossini: Il Barbiere Di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville): Act I, Scene I: La Ran La Le Ra...Largo Al Factotum (Figaro)

It was a brilliant Bugs Bunny short, The Rabbit of Seville (1950), that introduced me to this fantastic song. Elmer Fudd chases Bugs into the Hollywood Bowl, and both get caught up in a performance of the Opera; hilarious hijinks ensue. I love cartoons for bringing children (and adults) their first experience with classical (and opera) music.

The Story Summary:

Another opera set in 19th century Seville, Spain. Count Almaviva has fallen in love with Dr. Bartolo's ward, Rosina. He serenades her underneath her secured balcony. Having received no response, he is distressed. Then he meets the barber, Figaro, who decides to help the Count in his quest.

Figaro reveals that the Dr. is not Rosina's father, but guardian, who plans to marry Rosina for her inheritance. Figaro and the Count plan to break Rosina out. Rosina, meanwhile, has written a love note to her unseen serenade suitor. The Dr. interrupts her as she drops the letter outside. The Dr. is suspicious, having received news of the wooing Count seen in town. He leaves to make plans for marrying Rosina.

Figaro reads the dropped letter to the Count. Encouraged, he sings to Rosina and disguises himself as a poor student Lindoro, to avoid rousing the Dr.'s ire and to ensure that Rosina would love him for his character, not his riches as the Count. Figaro and the Count make plans. Much hilarity ensues as the characters plot and plan and play each other.

The first plan to have the Count billeted at the Dr.'s house under orders is a failure. Soldiers are summoned by the suspicious Dr., and they arrest the Count, only to let him go when they recognize the Count.

The second plan, with the Count disguised as the Dr.'s right hand man's assistant and a music teacher for Rosina, is successful. Using Rosina's love note, they convince the Dr. that the letter will be bait, to convince Rosina that it came from another of the Count's lovers. It will make the Count seem a fraud. The Dr. agrees to the plan and lets the music teacher in to see Rosina. The Count as a music teacher is able to woo Rosina, as she recognizes him as a disguised Lindoro. Figaro obtains the key to unlock Rosina's secured balcony.

The Dr. overhears the escape plans and summons his right hand man to make arrangements for marriage. The Dr. chases the music teacher and Figaro from his house. He convinces Rosina that Lindoro was a fraud and con artist, using the note he got from the music teacher, who he suspects is the Count! The Dr. convinces Rosina that the note came from Lindoro's other lover, and Lindoro intended to sell Rosina to the Count. Having no knowledge of who exactly is the Count, Rosina is outraged and declares herself ready to marry the Dr., to get even with Lindoro. The Dr. leaves to make preparations.

Figaro and the Count sneak in the balcony, and they are confronted by an angry Rosina. After clearing up the misconceptions and disguises, the Count and Rosina reaffirm their love, the official arrives, gets them married literally under the gun (a gun was involved to make things happen!), and the Dr. shows up too late to stop the wedding.

The lovers are happy. The Dr. takes consolation in the rich Count letting the Dr. keep Rosina's inheritance. And everyone is happy and celebrate the marriage of the Count and Rosina.

My initial reaction:

Awesome! It's a comedy of errors with a happy ending, and I love those!

My thoughts:

I'll definitely see this if the opportunity arises, because the reports I've read say that it is a very funny, entertaining opera. I like happy endings. And I'm eager to see how a live performance compares to the Bugs Bunny version!

Of note:

Gioachino Rossini's The Barber of Seville is related to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, written a century before! Both are based off Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais's plays from 18th century.

Giovanni Paisiello had an opera version of Beaumarchais's 1775 play Le Barbier de Séville. And his followers showed up on Rossini's opening night to cause mayhem! But Rossini's version was an unstoppable worldwide megahit, and it became an iconic and beloved classic.

Rossini's The Barber of Seville is actually a sort of prequel to The Marriage of Figaro, Mozart's great opera from the previous century. The characters in Barber continue their story in Figaro. In fact, the Barber of Rossini's opera is Figaro — pre-marriage!

Giacomo Puccini: Turandot, Act III: Nessun dorma

Turandot is Giacomo Puccini's last great opera. He actually didn't finish it. He died from cancer on November 1924 while still working on it. Puccini left instructions that Riccardo Zandonai should finish the opera. Puccini's son Tonio objected. Giacomo Puccini's friend, the conductor Arturo Toscanini, suggested that the score be given to the composer Franco Alfano to complete. Franco Alfano did his best to make the work seamless in the style of Puccini. It debut at La Scala, Milan on 25 April 1926.

Arturo Toscanini wasn't happy with the first completed version. And on opening night, at the end of Act III, he put down his baton and informed the audience that is where Puccini stopped, and ended the performance. The opera would be performed in full the next night. And after a few adjustments, Franco Alfano's version became the standard.

Turandot is based on a medieval Asian tale. It was put in a collection of fairy tales by Frenchman François Pétis de la Croix. The tales were translated into Italian by Carlo Gozzi. And German playwright Friedrich Schiller adopted the Italian version and turned it into a successful play. That play was adopted and translated into Italian, and that's how Puccini became familiar with it! Whew!

The story summary:

Set in medieval Beijing, China. The Pretender to the Tartar throne is outside the city gates, watching a mob cheer for the upcoming execution of a Persian Prince. The Perisan Prince had failed to answer the three riddles set by Princess Turandot as a condition for her consent to marriage. Anyone who wishes to marry the Princess must answer the three riddles correctly. If they fail, they are executed. But because of her beauty, hundreds of suitors come in spite of the danger, and they all fail and are killed to the delight of the mob.

In the latest excitement, the unruly mob knocks down a blind old man as they rush to see the execution. The blind old man's helper, a slave girl named Liu, cries out for help. The Pretender Prince, Calaf, rushes to Liu's aid and discovers the old man is the deposed Tartar King, his father, Timur! Timur explains that he is still in hiding from his enemies, and only Liu has remained faithful and loyal to him. Calaf asks Liu why. She replies it is because Calaf smiled at her once, long ago in the past. She has loved Calaf from afar.

The rising moon signals the start of the execution and the mob cheers. But at the sight of the composed and regal Persian Prince, the mob is moved to beg Princess Turandot for mercy, to spare the Persian Prince. But Turandot is a cold hearted bitch. With contempt, she calls for the beheading of the Persian Prince, and it is carried out to the dismay of all who witness it.

Calaf catches sight of the vicious Princess Turandot, and he falls in love. Many warn him not to ring the bell that accepts the Princess' riddle challenge. But not even the local officials, nor his father, nor Liu can convince Calaf to abandon his desire. He rings that bell to call forth Turandot.

The crowd gathers as Princess Turandot begins Calaf's trial. She explains that an ancestor of hers was ravished and killed by an invading Prince. That ancestor now lived in Turandot, and as vengeance, the spirit compels Turandot to refuse marriage and submission to men. She offers him to withdraw, but he remains steadfast, and the trial begins.

She asks the first riddle, "What is born each night and dies each dawn?"

Calaf correctly answers, "Hope."

Unfazed, Turandot asks the second riddle, "What flickers red and warm like a flame, but is not fire?"

Calaf takes a moment, then answers, "Blood".

Turandot is frightened. No one has ever made it this far before! The crowd cheers loudly for Calaf, and that ignites Turandot's wrath.

She demands, "What is ice which gives you fire and which your fire freezes still more?".

As Calaf thinks, Turandot taunts him, "What is the ice that makes you burn?" The taunt makes him see the answer and he proclaims, "It is Turandot! Turandot!"

The crowd cheers for the triumphant Calaf as the horrified Turandot throws herself at the Emperor's feet, begging her father not to let her marry the victorious Calaf. But the Emperor declares that an oath is sacred, the deal she made must be honored. She must marry Calaf!

In despair, Turandot demands if Calaf will force her. Moved by her distress, Calaf answered, "You do not know my name. Tell me my name before sunrise, and at dawn, I will die."

Turandot accepts the challenge. The Emperor hopes Calaf will be his new son in law. Meanwhile, Turandot orders that on pain of death, no one shall sleep in the city until the victor's name is revealed!

The officials beg Calaf to withdraw. The mob threatens to kill him. The officials offer him riches and other women if he leaves, but still Calaf refuses! He sees his impending victory and sings the famous song, Nessun dorma – "Nobody shall sleep!"

Then soldiers drag in Liu and Timur, his father. They were witnessed as having interacting with the victorious challenger earlier. Calaf denies knowing them. The soldiers rough up the blind old man, so Liu intercedes and declares that only she knows the identity of victorious challenger! Turandot has her tortured! But she still refuses to give up his name.

When Turandot demands what makes Liu so resistant, Liu declares that it is love. Her love for a Prince who does not acknowledge her feelings is what gives her the strength. To save herself from further torture and to keep Calaf from intervening, she grabs a soldier's knife and kills herself!

The mob is thrilled. The blind Timur is told of the travesty. He cries out in anguish. He berates the bloodthirsty crowd, telling them they are cursed for the injustice done to Liu! The crowd repents and follow Liu's body as it is taken for burial.

That only leaves Calaf who expresses his disappointment with the cold hearted, malicious Turandot. He reproaches her for her cruelty. Still, he grabs her and kisses her. And she likes it!

She confesses her love and hate for him, and tells him how she never felt a need like this before. She longs for his embrace and desires his love. She tells him to leave, to take his mystery and be gone.

But Calaf, confident and taking a chance, reveals his name to her, and leaves it to Turandot to decide his fate at dawn.

When dawn comes, Turandot approaches the Emperor's throne and declares she has learned the Prince's name: "It is ... love!"

The crowd cheers and the lovers are praised and go on to a happy ending.

The End.

My initial reaction: What the f*ck!?!

My second thought: Oh, Hell No!

What kind of bullsh*t is this!?! That c*nt and her a$$hole of a prince get a happy ending!?!?

F*ck that! We are supposed to ignore the fact that she's had hundreds of men murdered because she didn't want to get married? Bitch, if you wanted to stay single, then say so! Don't be murdering people and playing with their lives! And stop lying about being possessed by the spirit of some violated ancestor! Just say no to marriage and be done with it!

Meanwhile, we're supposed to forget about how Liu, the slave girl who took care of Calaf's blind father, gave up her life to protect his secret? A secret name he freely gave Turandot in the end, making poor Liu's sacrifice worthless? Are we supposed to forget how Liu was tortured horribly under orders from this bitch Turandot? That poor Liu had to kill herself to escape torture and save Calaf's life from a capricious, malicious sociopath? Oh, hell no!

And what happens to Calaf's blind father, Timur? Who's going to take care of the old man now? He still has to hide from his enemies, most notably, the Chinese Emperor who leads the people who disposed of Timur from his Tartar home country!

I'm supposed to be okay with how the opera ends? That all that matters is that Calaf won Turandot's icy heart? That love conquers all?

F*ck that! F*ck you, Puccini! No, wait, you didn't finish the opera. So F*ck you, Arturo Toscanini! And F*ck you, Franco Alfano! This was a f*cked up story! And you know what, after going over Puccini's other works, I realize that this is exactly the kind of crap that Puccini wrote about, where heroic women are abused, lied to, betrayed, and killed! So it's back to F*ck you, Giacomo Puccini for creating a messed up snuff version of opera!

Honestly, if I had seen this in a theater, they would've dragged me out and banned me outright for booing and hissing loudly at this atrocious story! I would've paid for tickets to get a troop of monkeys to fling poop at the cesspool and sewer that is the plot line and lead characters of this outhouse of an opera!

Deep breaths in and out. Walk away! Just walk away!

My later thoughts:

After taking a (very long) break to calm down, I've decided that I will take a sedative if necessary or down a few bottles of wine before seeing this opera. I'm usually a fun, laid back drunk. But no promises. And no ruling out the monkeys either!

I will attempt to see this opera if the opportunity arises, only because I really love the song. Buddha, grant me the strength to remain calm and civilized!

The first time that I heard Nessun dorma belted out by Mario Lanza, it was late at night. I was small child on the farm. I was also a night owl. I stayed awake one night next to my Mom on the sofa. We were waiting for my Dad to come home. It was the busy season, and he'd get home late, just past ten thirty at night.

I was playing with my toy car while Mom was listening to the a.m. radio and doing some knitting. Then this song came on, and I stopped playing with that toy car. I was captivated by the music. I didn't know what the man was singing (and I still don't!), but I was mesmerized by his voice. It was so beautiful and otherworldly, especially late at night.

I actually imagined myself being taken up into the skies to see the wonders of the world. My imagination ran wild, picturing all sorts of fantastic castles and mythical creatures, a superhero fighting monsters and soaring in the heavens after victory. I had recently been introduced to comic books from my teen brothers' collection. And those fantasy dungeon and dragons and superheroes themes made an impression on my young mind and imagination.

There have been other performances of this song, but nothing matches the stunning power of the very first time I heard this song. And I've enjoyed it ever since. And for its sheer beauty alone, I would go see the opera, to experience a live performance of a truly evocative and stunning song.

And that's part 1 of my Classics Opera collection. Part 2 is coming up. Let me know what you think about these opera songs and your thoughts on opera overall. Have you been to one? What advice would you give me to fully enjoy the experience? Do they serve drinks at intermission? And can I bring a snack to munch on while I watch the opera, like eating popcorn and nachos at a movie? Would it be a tad too much to bring in a bucket of fried chicken? Or should I just eat before the show? While I certainly would love to make the show an enjoyable experience, I don't want to make a faux pas or do something that would detract from the performance. And should I bring tomatoes in case the show turns out awful? Not to throw at the stage, but to snack on while waiting to exit the theater. You advice and thoughts are welcomed!

Related Links
The Sound of Music 1: The Classics - Ephemeral
The Sound of Music 2: The Classics - Ethereal
The Sound of Music: Classics - The Nutcracker
The Sound of Music: Holidays Classics Vol 1
The Sound of Music: Holidays Classics Vol 2
The Sound of Music 3: The Classics - Ebullient
The Sound of Music: Classics - Swan Lake
The Sound of Music: Classics - Requiem
The Sound of Music: Classics - Opera Part 2
The Sound of Music: Classics - Opera Part 3


  1. Excellent selections!

    A personal favorite is the Half-Act Opera, The Stoned Guest by PDQ Bach.

    1. LX, Some opera songs just stand out for being so unique and fantastic.

      Thank you for the funny link. It's a very well done parody of opera!

  2. PS: You might also like Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen (Hell's Vengeance Boils in my Heart) from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). Here performed for a recording by Diana Damrau.

    1. LX, Thank you for the awesome recommendation! I've looking for the name of this particular aria ever since I heard it in a movie.

      The soprano sounds like a machine gun when she starts firing off those high notes! It's my favorite part of the song! So unbelievable! What a fantastic vocal feat!

  3. Yes the queen of the night aria from THE MAGIC FLUTE is sublime

    1. John, Welcome! And thank you for the recommendation.

      I have been searching on and off for years, trying to figure out the name of the Queen of the Night aria. I didn't know what the song name was nor the opera it came from. And people looked at me like I was crazy when I tried to describe the song and the rapid fire high notes. Most tended to push me to the aria from "The Fifth Element" movie, but it's not the same!

      I'm so glad that LX recommended the aria and named it, helping me to finally identify it! And thank you for the recommendation! It is a great song!

  4. It's all about murder too! Not a nice " song"
    When we went to New York a few years ago I treated the Prof to a night at the met...we saw The Magic flute and he was blown away by the aria ......

    1. John, Your New York adventure sounds amazing! To see the opera at the Met is fantastic!

      When I was a small child, my brothers and I loved to sing the line from The Kinks Lola:

      Oh my Lola, lo lo lo lo Lola, lo lo lo lo Lola

      We had no clue that Lola was a transvestite/transsexual/drag queen? Whatever Lola was, I still like the song. But at least I now know why my older teen brothers used to giggle whenever we young'uns started singing "Oh my Lola, lo lo lo lo Lola, lo lo lo lo Lola".

      And I still sing that line from time to time!