Wednesday, March 13, 2013

opera: we're in this together

In the impoverished flat, the girl lies still under the tattered sheets. Her friends and lover move softly around her, speaking in whispers, making sure the lonely candle still burns, letting in more light through the worn curtains.
Two of them already know she is dead.
The other asks, “How is she?”
“She sleeps peacefully,” Her lover replies, looking upon her calm face, then upon the faces of his friends. He realizes that they are not so peaceful. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
One turns away, unable to contain his sorrow. The silence is deafening; no one speaks.
“What is it?!” The lover demands, beginning to panic. “Tell me!”
“Have courage!” the other one cries.
He looks once again at the girl and as the brass enters forcefully on a repeated, heartbreaking c sharp minor triad, he realizes the truth.
“Mimi!” he yells, running to her side. Sobbing, he tries to call her back to life, as the orchestra plays the music that was Mimi’s farewell music earlier in the act, simultaneously sharing in his grief and relentlessly stating the reality. As the friends silently grieve near the weeping Rodolfo, the music quiets, then throbs with pain. It’s as if the orchestra wants their time to mourn as well. 
The lights dim, the music fades away, the curtain descends. Audience members wipe away tears as they clap, Mimi gets up off of her bed, and all the cast members line up for their bows, orchestra members pack up their instruments. Life goes on.

But for that moment, everyone in that big hall was there in the tiny room, experiencing the same emotions, feeling the love, the camaraderie, the loss- the end of the journey. 

(pic found on the Internet)

Not just because of the singing, or because of the staging, or because of the text (actually in Italian), or the sets, or costumes, or even just because of the music, but because of all of these things that play such an integral role in the finished product. You can’t have a good opera without any one of these aspects, but the orchestra assumes a crucial role. In opera, it’s the orchestra’s role to make each character and situation come alive. In the above description of the last part of Puccini’s La Boheme, it’s not the fact that Mimi dies at the end that makes me as an audience member cry. It is the warm yet forceful chord played by the brass as Rodolfo realizes she is dead and begins to weep.

That’s why I love opera.

It’s chamber music magnified. In both genres, every part is necessary to create a unified, expressive whole. In opera, this includes the director, the conductor, the orchestra, the singers, the costume designer, the stage manager, and countless others. The feeling of being a part of such a huge effort is almost indescribable, and the sense of camaraderie and “we’re in this together” reaches beyond differences in ethnicity, language, upbringing- almost anything.

Right now I’m really happy to be playing in the orchestra for my school’s production of Handel’s opera Ariodante. The music is beautiful; light to play, but weighty in its own way. This is my first Baroque opera and hopefully not my last. I am enjoying the experience immensely.

When I was watching the piano dress rehearsal on Sunday (where everything happens as it would in a normal dress rehearsal- costumes, makeup, lights, etc, but with a piano instead of the orchestra), I was struck with an overwhelming sense of simultaneous joy and nostalgia. Many of the singers who have the lead roles in this opera are second-year Master’s students whom I have had the pleasure of meeting and becoming good friends with over the past two years. Many of them were there with me, helping me celebrate my birthday and offering countless words of advice and hugs of encouragement. My grandmother passed away a few days before Aspen began in June, and many of these singers were among the ones who were there for me among the saddest days, providing comfort and a caring shoulder to cry on. Watching these dear friends perform together with such passion for what they do was just amazing. 

Another reason why I love being a part of opera: the opportunity to be a part of such passion for art, for performing, for camaraderie and friendship, for impacting the lives of others, for making someone feel some emotion they didn’t think they could feel, for creating something that draws people in- not just audience members, but everyone involved in the production... the opportunity to be a part of such a passion for life in general.

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