Why Opera Is Cool

by Grace Warren

Let’s be honest. “Cool” is generally not a word people think of when it comes to opera. Usually when people think of opera, they picture a fat woman in a horned helmet holding a spear and screaming at an audience. Either that or Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in a similar situation. Although you will find the occasional horned helmet (Wagner operas), this is not an accurate representation of opera in general. Here’s another thing I bet you didn’t know: opera is AWESOME! Here are a few reasons why.

Whether you know it or not, you are already familiar with some operatic music because it is literally everywhere! You know the commercial with the exploding Pringles can? The music playing is the overture from Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” Also, in the scene in Up when Carl goes down the stairs, the Habanera from Bizet’s “Carmen” plays in the background. Not to mention all the opera incorporated into various episodes of Looney Tunes, Arthur, and Sesame Street. It is also possible that you knowingly listened to opera in the past and decided that you did not like what you heard. That’s valid, but don’t assume you dislike all opera! Opera has been around for over 400 years and, like all other types of music, it changed constantly. There are so many different styles of opera that I guarantee there is a style out there that you will like.

There is a stigma with opera that it is only interesting to old, rich people. That is completely untrue! There are a wide variety of stories in opera and, just like with the music, I guarantee there is an opera you will find interesting to watch. Also, these stories are not outdated no matter how long ago the opera was written. Depending on the opera house, an opera might be set in its original time period or it might be put into a modern setting, and still the story won’t change. For example, last winter the Metropolitan Opera in NYC performed Verdi’s Rigoletto (originally set in 16th century Mantua, Italy) and set it in 1960’s Las Vegas. Here is a picture of the set:

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The plot translated perfectly to this new setting. It is amazing how a story in an opera from the 1850s can still be relevant in more modern times. That is one of the incredible things about opera: it never goes out of style. Besides the music and the stories, there are other parts of opera productions that can appeal to anyone. Yes, even you, Engineers!! For the 2011/12 season, the Metropolitan Opera created a new version of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, 4 operas based on the folklore that is similar to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. For the set, the production team created a giant machine with multiple moving planks to create different shapes for the scenery. These planks were covered in interactive screens that changed to show different textures, colors, and other effects. Not only did the images change based on the input from a computer, but they also reacted to touch, body heat, and the volume of the singers’ voices. It’s pretty much impossible for me to explain how cool they are with words; you just have to watch what they can do. Here is a picture from one scene. That’s a real person in the middle to show some perspective.

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If you go to the following link, you can watch the opening of the first opera in the cycle and see how “The Machine” is used to represent the Rhein River. The planks are moved up and down to create a billowing effect for the water. Then they are raised and three mermaids, The Rhein Maidens, rise up from below the stage and “swim” in mid-air. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iuf1NOAWvug

This next link is to a trailer for the opera. It shows snippets of scenes so that you can see what else “The Machine” can do.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4R_kcWP0_SE  The final scene in that last video, when the Gods walk across the Rainbow Bridge to their palace at Valhalla, was so intense that they had to hire stunt doubles to do it instead of the singers. In this next link you can see how the screens on “The Machine” create different textures and other images. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuNZ5W_G0kg Go watch these videos. Seriously. They’re awesome.

Still need another reason to watch operas? Ladies, I give you Mariusz Kweicein and Stephen Costello. Honestly, what’s better than attractive men who can sing?

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And I didn’t forget about you, gentlemen. These lovely and talented ladies are Lisette Oropesa and Layla Claire. By the way, Lisette is the first one who sings in the first link I listed above.

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There are so many other awesome things about opera, too!! But I won’t keep listing them or you’ll be reading for hours. I know if you give it a shot, you’ll find some type of opera that you enjoy. Just listen to different styles to see what you prefer, and remember to keep an open mind! Also, if you want suggestions, I’ve got tons! Whether you’re looking for something old or new, comedic or tragic, a full opera or just some songs, I’d be happy to give you some ideas. Just shoot me an email or a Facebook message and I’ll get back to you.

If you are interested in seeing an opera, the Metropolitan Opera has live broadcasts of many of its productions that you can see at Movies 12 here in Ames! The price is a little more than a regular movie ticket, but you get a better than front row seat, and you get to see interviews with the cast, parts of rehearsals for other operas, and the behind the scenes action as sets are changed during intermission. It would cost hundreds of dollars just to see the performance live in New York without the backstage access. You can find the list of upcoming operas here: http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/liveinhd/LiveinHD.aspx?nav=top Another option is to go see the performances at the Des Moines Metro Opera during the summer. This summer’s season is awesome! They will perform “La Traviata,” one of the most famous Verdi operas, “Le Comte Ory” by Rossini, this is literally the funniest opera I have ever seen, and “Dead Man Walking,” a modern opera based on the book. This book was also made into a movie by the same name. Also, the cast will include an Iowa State voice professor (Mary Creswell), an ISU grad (Wayne Tigges), and the composer himself will be in attendance. There are also a number of operas available online and in the library. Go check them out, and have a great semester, everyone!!

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