A Night at the Opera

 

My brother Dan sings in the chorus of the San Francisco Opera.  Although he has sung in operas for 25 years, Curt and I have only been able to see him play a lead role in Madame Butterfly with a touring company.  One item on my “bucket list” has been to see Dan sing on stage in San Francisco. 

Thursday night it happened.  It was the dress rehearsal for Otello by Giuseppe Verdi, based on the play by Shakespeare.  We had prime seats in the “orchestra” section (main floor); hordes of vibrantly enthusiastic high school students watched from the balconies. 

I’m just going to say it: opera is an acquired taste.  I enjoy it, but I understand it is foreign territory for many.

But there is no better way to introduce, develop and nurture an operatic appetite than to see a live performance.  The Opera House provides a grand and splendid setting.  The three-story sets and lighting were superb.  The acoustics exquisite. The storyline, sung in Italian, was easy to follow with English super titles.  In short order, I was spell bound.  Moved.  Shaken. 

There is no electronic amplification.  The South African tenor and Bulgarian soprano had pipes.  But the Italian baritone who played evil Iago amazed me.  And when the entire cast was singing and all the instruments were playing, the sound went gloriously through my bones. 

The conductor turned to the audience before the fourth and final act.  The kids were not settled and the rustling noises continued.  “This act begins very quietly with a very beautiful French horn solo,” the maestro explained. “This very beautiful music needs very beautiful silence.  Thank you.”

It was a night to remember. 

You can see a three minute segment here, a video filmed during the performance we saw.    

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17 thoughts on “A Night at the Opera

  1. Wow, at first glance I thought this guy was Dan! A couple of questions: Where do they show the “supertitles”? And where was Dan during the group scenes and what was he wearing? And has he been one of the main singers in the past? How do they choose the main singers? Auditions?I have to say that I am completely DAFT over live performances of almost any kind! Having gone to live plays for the past year or so has made me a strong believer in seeing these things up close. It makes me tingle every time I go, whether to a small local performance, or ACT or California Shakespeare Theatre outdoors. I am so happy that you had this opportunity!

  2. @LimboLady – The supertitles are on a board right above the stage (as low as can be without obstructing any view of the stage).  There is space for two lines, they use Helvetica font, and it is easy to follow.Dan was here and there in the group scenes, wearing a peasant costume.  One song he was framed in a open door.  He used to sing lead roles, which one auditions for, but chose the security and steady income of singing in the chorus about 12 years ago. 

  3. I agree that for all but diehard fans, the best way to see opera by far is live.  Second best is a DVD.  I’m a professional musician, and I find just listening to opera less-than-mesmerizing.  It was meant to be seen, so we should see it if possible.  What an exciting evening you had watching and hearing your brother!  I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  4. I love the opera!  And I haven’t been since college.  How exciting to see your brother on stage.It is precisely because it is such a foreign musical form to most and must be acquired as a taste that the school I went to did “Amahl and the Night Visitors” bi-annually.  We always did a couple of matinees for elementary school kids to try to wet their appetites for it!

  5. Joy Graham!!  I sang my Junior Voice Recital with her and she is a big reason I’m in San Francisco because she persuaded me to audition for the Merola program (the summer training program of the SF Opera) in 1983!  Some years later she switched from the Lyric Opera chorus to the San Francisco Opera chorus.  It’s a small world after all…. 

  6. @magistramater – Once upon a time, I did some performing (nothing as spectacular as the SF Opera, though), but now I teach music history and theory to junior high and high school students at a Christian school.  I haven’t seriously practiced my instruments for years, but I really love the “academic” side of music anyway.  This is a perfect fit for me. When my students realize they are going to be learning about opera, most of them moan and groan, but the use of videos (instead of just listening) does a lot to bring them around.  I get much more positive results that way.

  7. A night at the opera was enjoyed and appreciated all the more since I was surrounded by our wonderful family Carol and Curt and dear friend Katie.  The next performance won’t be the same without them!

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