Thursday, November 19, 2009

Journal November 19--A Prelude: Music in my Life

I have developed a newfound appreciation for Opera.  I have always liked classical, orchestral music, and listened to opera at home enough to recognize various set pieces and arias, and have acquired a small library and list of my own favorites.   Perhaps because I have friends who are very close to opera (a woman I work with, for example, has a son who is an intern with Chicago's Lyric Opera), I have started to follow this art form in earnest.

Lately I have listened carefully to some works, especially by Puccini and Verdi.  I have a lot to learn about different genres, current performers, the distictions between opera companies and theaters, and the librettos (libretti?) of famous works.

I did a close study of Puccini's "Turandot" (I welcome comments on the pronunciation....does one pronounce the final "t", or no? /not?  LOL....).  This is an example of "verismo", which, from what I gather, is the treatment of more realistic subjects in reaction against the typical romantic, tragic or comic subjects that prevailed at the time.  But after actually reading the translation while listening, I was surprised at how violent it is! Long stretches are devoted to descriptions of executions, beheadings, etc. (and those are from the comic characters, I believe!). And the irony is that the music is some of the most beautiful I have ever heard...the Nessum Dorma aria is one of my favorites.....The experience must not be too unlike moviegoers in 1971 viewing Kubrik's "A Clockwork Orange",  who saw unspeakable violence scored to the beauty of Beethoven or Rossini, or the romanticism of "Singin' in the Rain".

My unease with this art form has always been that the sheer awesome beauty of the music, and the power of the voices and orchestrations, is in service to  banal, over-the-top"plots" and incidents that don't deserve such beauty as is provided by their musical interpretation.  Ah well...something to study, and to learn, in order to fully appreciate the works in their historical contexts.

We have, in Chicago, one of the best public radio stations in the country, devoted to classical music (as well as folk, another favorite genre, but more later).  WFMT FM:  here's a link to it, and I hope some of you will check in.  I encourage more discussion here about wonderful music, a balm to soothe the wounds of healthcare reform, Afghanistan, human rights, "Going Rogue", bans on gay well as our own personal struggles with careers, relationships, loss..... the list goes on.

I mentioned before that, in my opinion, great art (all of it, music, film, painting, architecture, writing, etc.)  reminds us to focus on what is in front of us, and the beauty we can find there; or to stimulate and change our patterns of thought and our angle of vision, and inspire us to take some positive action in our chosen causes, even personal ones, refreshing us and creating within us good energy to do well, and do good, one more day.

What interesting ends of the musical spectrum I love!...Joni Mitchell, on one side, Opera on the other...and both inspire me in different, creative, and interesting ways.

Lots more tomorrow, and in the weeks to come.  Your favorites? ...hope to hear from you!


  1. I've never been a big fan of opera, but have a lot of respect for the talent and skill it takes to perform. I know what you mean about "a balm to soothe the wounds" regarding fine music. My father, whose musical tastes hovered between country music and dixieland jazz, became an aficionado of opera and classical music late in his life and said it often moved him to tears, which was so surprising coming from him. He often made tapes of Pavarotti and others to share this unique experience with me. Very nice post, Tom!

  2. Thank you great-grandfather loved opera the way I love movies...I think I'll write a story about him in a future Operatic post....