My Introduction to Opera

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My Introduction to Opera

When I was in high school, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City hosted special matinees for high school students. My school organized annual field trips to these performances, but I was blissfully unaware of them until my senior year, when the featured opera was La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi (I’ve posted about this before).

It was the perfect introduction to opera. The story is a classic, stolen borrowed from La Dame aux Camélias, a novel by Alexandre Dumas. In a nutshell, courtesan Violetta loves Alfredo, but his parents think she’s not good enough for him, so she breaks it off. At a party, he confronts her and accuses her of loving someone else, but he doesn’t learn the truth until Act III, when she dies of consumption (tuberculosis) in his arms.

 

Carl_d'Unker_(attr)_La_Traviata_Eklat_am_Spieltisch

Painting of party scene in Act I of La Traviata, by Carl d’Unker, circa 1855.

 

Verdi’s music is heavenly. Here is the drinking song, Libiamo:

And Violetta’s first reaction to Alfredo’s declaration of love (the voice she hears in the background is Alfredo’s), Sempre Libera (Always Free):

 

Maria_Callas_(La_Traviata)_2

Maria Callas as Violetta in the Royal Opera House production of La Traviata, 1958. Photograph by Houston Rogers.

The version I saw was not quite so contemporary; instead, it was set in the late 1800s.

 

Soon after the field trip, I bought a record of the opera’s highlights, and wore it out through repeated playings. It remains one of my favorite operas.

When I transferred to Glassboro State College (now called Rowan University) in my junior year, I met a student who had been to that very same performance (also his first opera), and it convinced him he wanted to be a musician. Music has the power to change lives. At very least, it helps us to escape our world and our troubles for a while.

What was the first opera you ever saw? Did you think you’d be bored? Did the experience meet or exceed your expectations? Please share in the comments below.

 

 

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