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Think Opera Plots Are Silly? Not Necessarily !

 An old joke about opera goes "An opera is a form of entertainment  where a man gets stabbed in the back , and instead of dying,he sings" . Samuel Johnson described opera as "An exotic and irrational entertainment".

  Well,that's true as far as it goes, but don't believe all the stories about how ridiculous the stories of operas are, or be fooled by all the stereotypical images of fat singers in ridiculous pseudo Viking costumes. That's not what opera is about at all.

 Opera stories take place all over the world , in Europe,America,Asia, Africa or wherever . Some are set in ancient Egypt and some in the present day. Many are set in Europe throughout its history, in Italy,Spain (many famous operas seem to be set in or near the city of Seville for some reason), Russia under the Tsars, quaint Sicilian villages, Venice, Paris, villages in the Czech republic,or Vienna , etc.

  There are exotic operas set in China ,India and Japan and virtually anywhere. But are the stories really silly and lacking in any credibility? Not necessarily.

  Here are the stories of a few famous ones in a nutshell. I don't think you'll find them silly in the least.

 Carmen,by Georges Bizet . Seville.A young Spanish soldier stationed near a cigarette factory falls for a seductive Gypsy femme fatale named Carmen who works at the factory . He deserts the army for her and is put in prison for a while. Then he gets involved with her in smuggling contraband goods in the mountains. She dumps him for a dashing matador named Escamillo . Devastated, he begs her to come back to him outside the bullring where the matador is fighting bulls, and he stabs her to death when she tells him it's all over .

  This story could have come out of the newspapers.

  Modest Mussorgsky: Boris Godunov. This is based on Russian history and is a somewhat fictionalized story using historical figures. The Boyar Boris Godunov has had the only surviving son of Ivan the Terrible,just a boy, assasinated so that he could usurp the throne and become Tsar of Russia. He is proclaimed Tsar, but inherits terrible problems with the rebellious Russian people and intrigue at the court in Moscow. He is tormented by guilt for the murder and even has halucinations. Meanwhile, a young runaway orthodox monk is claiming to be the rightful heir and has misled many Russians into thinking that the Tsarevich was not actually murdered years ago. He stirs up the Russian people to rebellion and goes to Poland and forms a cynical romantic alliance with an ambitious Polish princess who wants Poland to conquer Russia. Overcome by guilt, Boris dies, and the story ends in uncertainty . If you attend a performance, you will be overwhelmed by the power of the story and the music.

  Giuseppe Verdi: Don Carlo. This is also a story based on historical figures,this time set in 16th century Madrid . King Philip of Spain is having trouble with his stubborn and rebellious son,the infante Don Carlos. Philip    has married princess Elisabeth of France,daughter of the French king, for political reasons and she does not love him. She had been hoping to marry Don Carlos and the two still love each other despite the fact that she is now his stepmother. Don Rodrigo is Carlos' close friend and gets him involved in the quest to free Flanders (now part of Belgium) from Spanish tyranny,but the two run afoul of the Spanish inqusition and the ruthless grand inqusitor. The king's jealous mistress princess Eboli is in love with Carlos and falsely accuses Elisabeth of adultery. The king reluctantly has Rodrigo assasinated at the orders of the grand inqusitor. In despair, Carlos goes into self-imposed exile in the tomb of his grandfather Charles the Fifth of Spain. This is another powerful and sweeping story .

  These three operas are in the current repertoire of the Metropolitan opera,and you can see and hear them on the internet and in HD broadcasts in movie theaters around the country, as well as on the radio on Saturday afternoons live.

  There are also many operas with fanciful non-realistic stories dealing with the supernatural , myths and legends, such as those of Wagner. But Wagner's plots are more like The Lord of The Rings and other fantasy novels and films. In fact, the Lords of the Rings and Star Wars are very much inspired by Wagner.



Posted: Dec 07 2010, 06:30 PM by the horn | with no comments
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