Each one of us has at least a favorite music genre, many people have more than one, many others like music that doesn’t belong to any genre, others love mixtures of genres and so on. My favorite genre is opera. I have to admit that it isn’t an easy genre, but I simply love it because it gives me emotions that no other genre has ever made me feel. It also makes me learn every time something new and I really love this.
I started quite late to ask myself what opera was, I started even later to go to the theater and to become really passionate about it; however after I got inside that world, nothing could pull me out of it. The first time I asked myself what opera was (if I rightly recall) in 2006, when Italy hosted the Winter Olympic Games in Turin (funny that I always have memories linked to Olympic Games!). I was watching the opening of the games on TV and I can still remember this man, whose name was Luciano Pavarotti, singing one of the most beautiful things that I had ever heard. It started with “Nessun dorma!”, it talked about princesses and stars and it ended with “all’alba vincerò, vincerò, vincerò!” in a crescendo of a music of indescribable beauty. It made me shiver even if I had no idea of what that piece was. Surely I knew the man. Pavarotti was very famous, but at that time I couldn’t really quantify how important he or that performance was. I only knew he was singing with a temperature below 0 degrees and that I couldn’t believe or understand the beauty of what I was listening.
Years later I found in an article that in reality that night he hadn’t sang and the players hadn’t played because it would have been impossible to perform in such a cold weather. So they had recorded that piece some weeks before and had pretended to play it at the opening. The fact that the recording was of only a few weeks before made the thing acceptable to many, but the debate was very hot for quite some time.
So, back to the 2006 Winter Olympic Games. That piece seemed to be quite a good start because of the words (it literally says “at dawn I will win!”) and because it was so famous and well performed that you couldn’t but think that you would have won. Well, the true story is that that piece in the opera Turandot has quite another meaning: the prince who is singing it, has challenged the Chinese princess to find out his name. If she finds it out before dawn, she can kill him, if not, she will have to marry him. On a side note: she wants to be free and has already killed many princes, so she really wants to find out his true name before dawn; in order to do so she is torturing and killing her own people until someone reveals her his name. However, no one knows his true name apart from two other people, so he sings: “My mystery is hidden in myself, no one will know my name! I will say it on your mouth when the light will shine. Oh night end! Oh stars set! At dawn I will win!” All famous opera pieces get another meaning when their story is told. They finally make sense.
For quite some time I wasn’t very active in trying to find out some more things about operas until a couple of years later my grandmother took me to the theater to see my first opera: Tosca. I can still remember almost everything of that night. Fist of all she gave me the libretto to read in advance: it was a little booklet with the words of the opera and it was so old that on the back the price was written in our old currency before the Euro and the price was the lowest thing I had ever seen. It was a price of the beginning of the 1900s before the inflation had skyrocked: “Prezzo Lire Una”.
When the opera started, I thought it was the most beautiful thing ever, but when the singer who was playing Tosca entered on the stage, the whole public murmured something. “What’s wrong?” I asked my grandmother in a low voice. “She is supposed to have black hair.” She whispered. I didn’t quite get what the problem was until I found out that her lover sings a very important piece saying that she has black eyes and hair. Also, in the first act she makes a fuss out of a painting he is completing, that shows a woman with blue eyes and blond hair, so clearly not her. So, yes, the fact that that singer had blond hair, was quite a problem.
Since then many years have passed and I now am really into opera. Many of my friends ask me how you actually prepare to go to an opera because you can’t just go and hope that you’ll like it. It would be like going to a concert of an artist you don’t know to listen to songs you have never heard. Not a great idea usually. So I will write this in another article. I am also trying to expand my interest to symphonic music, but it’s not easy because it is very different to me as a concept, so I will see if I will succeed!