Opera is a forbidding art form. It’s often in an unknown foreign language. The productions tend to be long. The plots are frequently complicated. And the music is for many another unfamiliar language that’s difficult to penetrate. On top of the basic music and theater, there are particular rituals relating to clapping, sitting, standing, and shouting. So it takes some time and diligence to learn enough about opera to be able to enjoy it without conscious effort.
Why bother? For me, it was curiosity. The fact that some operas, with all their discouraging aspects, have survived for hundreds of years suggests there’s something interesting going on. Producing a single world class opera involves not only enormous financial expense, but also unbelievable human effort and struggle. Each individual singer, each member of the orchestra, each dancer has devoted years of effort to master their individual art. Beneath that mastery is the similar mastery of each individual’s teacher, and the generations of preceding artists before that that passed on their own understandings. Each performance is, for those reasons alone, remarkable. If there are no major glitches in a live performance, where the artistic demands are intense, it is amazing. And if the performance succeeds in connecting its many parts together, as intended, and touches us emotionally, it’s a miracle.
Remarkably, these miracles are not highly unusual. It sounds unlikely , but Sally and I have witnessed several of them in the last couple of years with the Opera Company of North Carolina. Last night we attended their Rigoletto. Gaetan Laperriere was a strong Rigoletto, Leoard Capalbo was a very macho Duke, and Sarah Jane McMahon was a lovely Gilda. The principals sang with assurance and power, and were strong actors. In the big, famous love-and-death arias, I measured a 7 on the 10-point Goosebumpameter. It was great.