Monday, December 11, 2006


I attend a lot of performances. Many of the works I hear are new to me, but I don't always prepare for programs or operas. If I get a peek at a recital program, I might download songs on iTunes if I don't have them in my rather small recording collection. If the venue (such as the Barbican and Carnegie Hall) provides a pdf file of the program for download ahead of the concert, I'll try to read it, focusing on the texts and translations.

Prior to Renee Fleming's February 2005 Boston recital, I spent an afternoon in the listening room of Harvard's music library. I listened to her entire program, hearing extraordinary recordings by singers such as Felicity Lott, Kathleen Battle and Michael Chance in Purcell and Handel and Jessye Norman in Berg. There was one song I had difficulty in finding: Schumann's "Stille Traenen". After much searching, I found one recording of the song, on a souvenir (non-commercial) CD of a star-studded gala concert given to benefit the Marilyn Horne Foundation. Who was the singer? Renee Fleming. After listening to recordings of half a dozen singers in pieces that Fleming was to perform that night in Boston, it put a smile on my face that the last and most difficult-to-find song should have been recorded by Fleming herself.

Sometimes I like to hear a work for the first time in a live performance. This is one reason I sometimes attend more than one performance of a program or run. But if this is not possible, I sometimes try to listen to a recording or watch a DVD. Reading a libretto is also helpful, particularly if the opera is in a language I speak.

As I write this, I'm listening to the Met's live broadcast of Don Carlo, linked on the Met's home page. In one week I will attend this opera at the Met. I found librettos online (in Italian and English), and, as ever, has been immensely helpful. Given that I will see only one performance of this run--with an amazing cast that is unlikely to be assembled again--I want to be prepared.

It's possible to enjoy opera without doing your homework. But, while I lose myself in the intense emotions as much as the next person, I see opera as a means of discovering so much more. Program notes, supertitles (or Met Titles), librettos, recordings, DVDs, HD cinema broadcasts: we need all of these to enrich the experience of live performances, and, in the case of recordings and broadcasts, to leave archives and souvenirs.

Back to Carlo: Alex Ross has written a nice little piece on Rene Pape. I am lucky to have tickets to hear this singer several times this season (Verdi, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner) in three different cities. Stay tuned for reports.

1 comment:

HughE2030 said...

Very interesting. I am learning so much about Opera from you and your friends.