Macaulay Seminar One at Brooklyn College
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Rigoletto in Vegas

Last Wednesday I saw the opera Rigoletto, by Giuseppe Verdi, at the Met. The opera is an old one but there was an interesting twist:instead of being set in the medieval town of Mantua in Italy, it was set in the 70’s town of Las Vegas, complete with cocaine, strippers, mobsters, oil sheiks, and martinis. The setting was an interesting choice considering that the story is one of decadence in the court of a lecherous duke. But despite the best efforts of the designers and stage crew, it was to no avail. The music  and the singing kept on calling you back to Italy, so that you would have to continue to remind yourself that the characters were wearing trousers instead of hoses and pinstripe suits instead of doublets. In truth, you forgot that it was supposed to be Las Vegas.

I was not terribly impressed with Hvrastovsky’s singing (who played the titular role of Rigoletto, a cruel and derisive jester who has great love for his daughter Gilda) which was poor at first and gained some power throughout the second act, reached its peak with La Dona e Mobile (which is such a masterpiece of opera arias that I would be altogether dissapointed if he did not make some effort to perform it well) and then generally declined. To be honest the only male voice that I though really hit the mark as that of the singer who played Sparafucile. What really brought down the house was the singing of Sonya Yoncheva who played Gilda. Her singing is difficult to explain with words because of its great beauty and strength. She alone gave 110% and it was her singing that made this timeless opera worth seeing


December 9, 2013   No Comments

Tosca-Forgot to Post!

So a couple of weeks ago I went to see the opera Tosca at the Met and forgot to post about. So here goes…

The opera was amazing. It had everything that a good opera, in my opinion needs, namely, great music, great arias, a great story, and fantastic singing. The opera was written by Giacomo Puccini and is set in Rome against the background of the Napoleonic wars. Before going to see it, I read up a  bit about it and was interested to find that this opera is a prime example of the verismo, or “realistic” style of opera, greatly propagated and advanced by Puccini and present in his other works. Verismo departs from the classical opera stories of gods and heroes and deals more intimately with ordinary people who often find themselves in extraordinary situations. Ultimately this form of opera is at times, easier to connect to, as it deals with common themes that we as humans constantly are involved in and deal with. It is truly amazing to watch a skillful opera composer, such as Puccini, weave an amazing story out of simple characters, people who could have been you or me ( I would also like to make clear that I enjoy classical opera very much also, despite their more fantastical elements, and just as their is a time to hear the story of the factory girl or the painter, so too is their a time to hear the story of the demigod.)

Tosca, I feel, is best described as raw in emotion. It was as though Puccini took all the romanticized emotions that a person could feel, namely, love, hatred, patriotism, rebelliousness, piety, sacrilege, and stripped them down to their most essential state, husking the outer shells built up by years of censorship, of correctness, as one might husk an ear of corn, and presented to us, the audience, these emotions, unmolested and unedited. Truly, one can say that Puccini did not create anything in this opera, but rather removed all the unnecessary elements, all the reins and bridles that held back these feelings, and gave them to us in the form of Tosca. Likewise I was interested to see Puccini introduce themes of suicide and torture, that give the opera a darker tone in contrast with the more lighthearted, almost comedic, atmosphere of the first act.

Dealing with Met production of the opera, as I mentioned, the singing was amazing. The sets were well constructed. The orchestra was perfect. Truly, this was a very successful production, if ever I saw one, and while watching Tosca you never feel the time go by. Rather it flies by and you hardly notice, so enchanting was this Puccini classic. I definitely recommend it to everyone while it is still playing at the Met.

November 26, 2013   No Comments

Opera can have Political Stigma-Oops!

In Hungary, A New Opera Joins the Chorus Against Anti-Semitism

The above is a link to a NY Times article about how Ivan Fischer has been using opera to call attention to the rise of antisemitism in Hungary. So I was wrong when I argue that operas don’t have political stigma, but I’ll try to salvage some of my dignity by pointing to what Ivan Fischer said about opera and art in general: ” Culture shouldn’t be interested in day-to-day politics. We want to be valid next year and the year after. But I think culture has a strong responsibility to find the essence, the real concealed truth which lies behind the day to day.”

October 22, 2013   2 Comments

What Makes Opera Special?

By Leo, Rene, Liz, Fatima

There are several things that separate opera from other types of art. Here are a few:

1. Lack of Stigma/Politics- Many other forms of art-music, poetry, writing, painting, photography- are used to bring attention to some type of social situation or to bring about political or economic change. We have discussed several examples in class, especially with photography. I feel that opera lacks this social stigma and that opera is not really used to call people to action. I think it is important to note the wording there- to call people to action. I do not deny that opera can be used to comment on political or social events but I don’t think that opera is meant to make people do something about that specific event. For example, Les Huguenots is a French grand opera by Offenbach, that goes over the events prior or leading to The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (an event when French Catholics in Paris slaughtered French Protestants). While the opera does make political commentaries about the event, it does not call the listener to go and do something about the Huguenots being slaughtered, because the opera was written many years after the actual event took place.

2. Passion- Operas are always passionate. This was the hardest for me and my group to define because none of us could put into words what the word passion meant. I won’t try to do that here but I will say that even when the opera is comic, the beauty of the voice and the music transforms the opera beyond slapstick humor or crude jokes. There is a floating around of human feelings-love and hatred and many others. There is always great feeling in opera and that makes it passionate.

3. Elaborate Costumes, Set, and Music- another defining feature of opera is its overall complexity. There are so many different factors that come together to make an opera. This is a stark difference between the other forms of art that were discussed which have overtime become generally accessible to everybody. Opera still remains a highly collaborative effort- and an expensive one!



October 22, 2013   No Comments

The Opera: A Midsummer’s Night Dream

I think that the first thing to say is that overall, I genuinely enjoyed the opera. I thought that the singing was excellent and I really enjoyed the set design. I can’t really judge the story since it is not original to the opera, but on a side note, “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”, I think, is an excellent story.

This was my first “modern” opera in that it has been written and created in the past fifty years, as opposed to all the operas that I have seen that are usually more than a hundred years old. It was also the first opera that I saw that was in English, a traditionally uncommon feature of opera, where most arias are written in Italian or French. I was at first a little uncomfortable ( that’s a horrible word to use in this situation but I can’t think of a better one) at listening to opera in English. Opera is more suited to for Romance languages, not only because they are beautiful (English is also very beautiful, I just think we cant notice it because we are raised speaking it), but because they have a certain beat to them, a musical flow, that is noticeable when a speaker of the language is talking plainly, but becomes especially beautiful when it is sung. This uncomfortable feeling eventually wore away when I remembered that there are many successful and beautiful operas sung in Russian and German, which can be more brutal languages than English. I was not disappointed by the English after I heard the opera, but I noticed that many words and phrases had to be stretched in order to fill into the tempo set by the music and that is most pleasing, something that arise from English’s lack of a musical beat.

I pointed this out in class and I think it is kind of silly, but it seems that it is sad to waste such beautiful voices on a comedy. The opera singers have the voices of gods and heroes and they use them to make ass jokes. I don’t want to be pretentious and say that opera must be serious and proud. Many great operas are comedies ( The Barber of Seville being my favorite example) and many great opera comedies are ruined by making them too serious or tragic (Russian opera houses being notable offenders). These are just personal feelings and I don’t agree with them myself but they are just thought and even more, a cloaked homage to the great opera singers that we saw that night.

One thing that was definitely lacking was the music. It lacked all of the grandness of opera music and instead strove to be a movie theme and even failed at that, becoming more so just background music. Opera is about showcasing voices, I agree, but movies are about showcasing acting, and yet we are inclined to judge harshly a movie where actors are walking around a cardboard set and surrounded by fifth-grader recorder music. Similarly opera is comprised of many different factors: the singing, the set, the costumes, the acting, and the music. And while I’m willing to yield on acting and set and costume (though none of those were particularly lacking and I thought the acting was just right) I feel music is second only to the singing and many great operas are remembered solely by their music ( we can all hum “Habanera” or “The Ride of the Valkyries” but very few of us actually know the words to these arias). One can argue that since this is a comedy, grand opera music would make it too serious and spoil it, but there is a difference between good opera music and grand opera music, just as there is a difference between good opera and grand opera. The Barber of Seville is a comedy and so is The Magic Flute but both contain good opera music that is decidedly light, yet strong in its delivery, and containing the Italian notes that prevent it from becoming to serious. Les Huguenots is grand opera with grand opera music that transports the listener through all the tragic events of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. If this opera had good opera music then I would have lay off, but the fact that this opera contained hardly any true music, I felt that it took significantly away from this opera.

But, like I said, overall I enjoyed this opera.

October 22, 2013   No Comments