Entertainment for Everyone ?
a talk by Wis Jablonski to Probus Club of Capri
The word opera simply means works in Italian and is a fruit of the late sixteenth century Italian Renaissance. Various musical art forms from other parts of the world, some of them of ancient origins, could also be called opera. That could be prefaced with an adjective indicating the region or genre like the Chinese opera or the infamous 20th century invention of a soap opera. There is also a pop opera, another American creation.
Regardless of the definition one does not need to be a music lover, poet or artist to appreciate the gems that opera has to offer. There is an interesting example of how people may react to a performance. In the movie Pretty Woman the main character Vivian played by Julia Roberts is taken to opera by Richard Gere. The opera is La Traviata about Violetta, a woman of loose morals.
What was the reaction of Vivian, that young girl on the verge of moral decline herself? Without education, without a proper introduction (and opera is sung in Italian) she received a message from the performance - and she is crying. Crying for what? Her own miserable life without future or for Violetta who dies but not before she would experience a true love? No, she was crying because the opera had awakened in her some deep emotions.
Opera embodies the life we would like to have; great lifestyle, costumes, jewellery and admiration of peers. But opera can also reflect the darker side of life full of hatred and jealousy, treachery and murder. Sometimes it has a happy ending and sometimes a tragic one. In many ways opera emulates life. The only thing that differentiates life from opera is that in the opera, a person who is poisoned, stabbed or shot may continue to sing for a long time.
A while ago Friends of Opera Inc, of which I am a proud Life Member, presented Massenet’s Werther. The main character commits suicide by shooting himself but continues to sing his sorrowful aria for fifteen minutes. Finally, the frustrated audience whispered: die, die, die.
So what is an opera? It is a fusion of the four important elements: music, libretto (the story), performers (singers, dancers, musicians and a conductor) and the settings. The music of opera can be alluring and we can sing it long after the performance (Puccini’s O Mio Babbino Caro, Bizet’s Habanera or Verdi’ Va pensiero). It can be also atonal, like in Wozzek, a brilliant opera by Berg about madness; actually almost all of the serious 20th century music has been atonal !