Over the past few years, my wife and I have attended a good portion of Madison Opera’s productions. Our children have also had the opportunity to attend dress rehearsals, through school and tickets from friends. Without hesitation, I can tell you we’ve enjoyed every single one. And, in fact, we’ve attended mostly the less popular productions (for example, we missed La Boheme). Each time it has been a thrill to enter the Overture Center and surround ourselves with the story, the music, the set, the costumes, and the incredible singing talent.
My wife and I attended our first opera many years ago in Santa Fe. It was in English and a newer work from a composer that wasn’t a household name. I can’t even remember the title. But that’s okay. Santa Fe opera is really cool, and it was an experience we’ll never forget. Driving up to the outdoor amphitheater, we sensed something spectacular was going to happen. And it did. Hearing the passion of the voices combined with a beautiful story, all under the stars of the southwest sky, was simply remarkable. We were hooked.
Last weekend, the two of us saw Eugene Onegin at the Overture Center, another lesser known opera and this one in Russian. We were impressed once more. First of all, the set was phenomenal, a first rate production normally seen in a large metropolitan city. At the beginning of Act Two, the mood of the trees and snow, falling at just the right moment, accompanied by a heart-wrenching aria was unforgettable. We also enjoyed the story of Eugene Onegin. We purposefully did not read anything in the program and were nicely surprised as the plot developed. And lastly, the voices. I took piano lessons for over 12 years in my youth, and I know the practice it takes to get to perfection. The performers in Eugene Onegin could not only sustain a note but project it and turn it on a dime. It was pure talent and it was a treasure to listen to.
If you’re still not sure about opera, allow me to wrap up with a few pointers that might win you over.
- Whether Italian, German, or even Russian, don’t let a libretto in another language scare you away. Almost all operas have supertitles in English to help you follow along, and it’s kind of cool to hear the foreign language sung. Even then, I don’t stay glued to supertitles. That’s because once I get into it, I have a sense of the feeling within the scene without a need to understand every word. This makes it fun.
- Put yourself into the feelings of the character. Whether you think of your own experiences or your children, spouse, or a friend, we can all relate to the intense feelings projected by the performer. When Tatiana was rejected by Eugene Onegin, I immediately thought of my daughter, who is getting into the boyfriend craze, and how I might feel if something similar happened to her. It’s a powerful way to get connected to the story.
- Get good seats. The live performance of opera is what makes it dynamic. Spending a little more on decent seats makes it even better. Book well in advance whenever you can. The Overture Center, for example, has some great affordable seats near the back of the orchestra section that I highly recommend. But they sometimes sell out quickly. The next operas in Madison are Galileo Galilei from January 26-29 then Cinderella on April 27 and 29, if you want to mark your calendar now.
- Don’t be intimidated. I think many people stay away from opera because they think it’s for people who are much more refined or knowledgeable, perhaps the stereotype of a cultural snob. But hopefully you can tell from my post, I am
quite the common man when it comes to opera. I might be using the wrong terminology, and the only foreign language I know is Spanish. I can’t even remember composer names at times (I confess I also forget movies I’ve seen). In any case, I don’t believe there are cultural snobs, and if there are, they are a minority.
So what is comes down to is this: when I attend an opera, I see people like me. People who like a good story, are moved by passion and feeling, and are wowed by talent, beautiful music, and a feast for the eyes. Opera is very welcoming if you take in everything it offers. Yes, opera is for everyone.
Photo Credit: Tim Matheson / Vancouver Opera