Monday, February 23, 2009

Music: An Evening of Opera Scenes

When people ask me what kind of music I like, I honestly answer "everything—except opera." I'm snooty enough that I really should like opera (I don't think that classical music is boring, I go to see lots of performance arts, and I sang soprano in all eight semesters of high school chorus. But I tend to prefer chamber music to orchestral, and contemporary to traditional ballets—I don't do well with performative hyperbole (though I like it in literature and painting), and what is more hyperbolic than The Opera?

But this evening of opera scenes, which I attended to see a co-worker do what she really does (how weird is it to see a girl who walks past your desk all day with stacks of presentations, headed to the binding machine, on stage in a floor-length white gown and madly-teased hair, wailing in Greek?) reminded me that, just like there are ballets quite unlike Swan Lake, their are operas quite unlike those of Mozart and Puccini. It's true that the plots were still a bit "big" for my taste (melodrama, again, only works for painters), but the music—it was different! It was beautiful, lean, voices plus piano swooping in and out of each other, almost experimenting, rather than showing off. . . groping, feeling, and blindly finding bliss.

What were these delicious pieces of music? The end of the second act from Gian Carlo Menotti's The Saint of Bleecker Street (Karen Suarez's low, foreboding voice so atypical, wonderfully strange), the aria from Kurt Weill's Broadway opera Street Scene (which made me cry), Clytemnestra's murder scene from Richard Strauss's Elektra (a fantastic struggle between female voices), and the opening scene from Jonathan Dove's Flight (the best piece of the show for its humor, its unapologetic contemporaneity, and the brilliant physical drama of Courtenay Symonds, who supports her hysterical performance with full-speed-ahead vocal achievements), amongst others. Now I can't say I don't like opera. When people ask me what kind of music I like, I'll have to say "everything—except Puccini."

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