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Eyewitness Companion to Opera

eyewitness-companion-to-operaThe Magic Flute, Die Zauberflote, was written specifically for a popular audience -in 1791. It is still one of the most accessible operas and the perfect first opera experience. The Eyewitness Companion to Opera describes The Magic Flute as “best known for its catchy melodies, the most famous being the Queen of the Night’s show-stopping aria”.

Lucky Parry Sounders will have an opportunity to see this opera classic tomorrow evening at the Charles W. Stockey Centre, as we celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the company of the exceptionally talented singers of the Jeunesses Musicales.

Dorling Kindersley is a publisher well known for their Eyewitness travel guides, but they also publish a series of books they call Companions - factual, comprehensive books covering a range of topics including classical music, French cheeses, philosophy, golf (and many, many more) and the one I have just explored, opera.

Remembering first opera experience

My first experience of opera was not a pleasure. There is a fat old man - the groom (dressed in funny clothes) howling at a fat old woman, the bride (revealing far too much bosom) is yelling back at him - all in German - The Bartered Bride (without surtitles). I cringed in my seat wishing I was anywhere else but the Munich Opera House with my parents - I was 14 years old. It took me over 30 years to be convinced to attend another opera.

I now love it - because I now know the secret to enjoying opera. You must be able to suspend belief.

You must be able to believe that the death in an opera is no more permanent than the death of the roadrunner in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. If you cannot suspend belief you could not bear the tragedy. And, most opera is tragic - there is usually great despair, and usually things do not end well.

The Eyewitness Companion to Opera is an excellent guide to the composers, synopses, singers and performances.

The book is arranged chronologically in order of the date of composition of each opera - but very well indexed and easy to look up any opera or composer or performer.

The plot synopsis of each opera is very complete, but concise and easy to understand. The volume is well illustrated with photographs of both opera productions and opera houses around the world.

Another excellent way to learn about opera and to expand your knowledge and enjoyment is to watch DVDs of Opera. Viewing a DVD makes an excellent excuse for a social occasion. We usually watch a DVD of the opera in advance of seeing the opera at the COC in Toronto, and enjoy a dinner on a theme connected to the opera.

We can comment on the costumes and the sets as we cannot in the opera house - and, it helps us to understand the story before attending the production.

We can then simply enjoy the staging and the music without being distracted by the surtitles as we try to figure out who is who and what the heck is going on. Naxos produces hundreds of excellent Opera DVDs and CDs.

They have produced both contemporary and historical recordings of operas on CD. You can hear the legendary Maria Callas in a 1954 recording of Il Turco in Italia by Rossini, or watch the complete Ring Cycle performed by the Staatsoper Stuttgart on DVD.

For me, opera is like scotch - an acquired taste, but well worth the effort taken.

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