Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Culture: Countdown to Tannhauser

Opera is one the most compelling and captivating of all the performing arts. It is essentially a dramatic work that is primarily sung, is accompanied by an orchestra, and is presented on the stage. Opera, however, with its lavish spectacle, high drama and visual and aural treasures, is much more than that. No other art form combines such disparate elements – singing, acting, lighting, design, orchestra, movement and dance into such a seamless whole. It engages our minds, captures our hearts and releases our imaginations.

The combination of words and music can, at its best, let us experience things about human character, feelings, moods and motivations that music and words, on their own, are powerless to express. It is like a window into the soul of a character. It is no wonder that no other art form inspires such passion in its audience and participants.
The above item is from the Opera Basics tab of the LA Opera web page.

A few years back, I set the goal of attending one opera per season.

I've always been a fan of classical music.

However, classical music mixed with the performing arts has been a little harder for me to grab onto.

I've seen a few ballets here and there. The Nutcracker is always a pleasure because the music is so interesting and the costumes are so colorful. Midsummer Night's Dream has soothing music and its comedic elements manage to come through even with no words. Romeo and Juliet is the classic tragedy and since we all know the story so well I find it remarkable how the story is still so riveting as we head to the inevitable tragic ending.

As for opera, what can I say?

It is probably the most over-the-top performing art style there is!

For an overview of opera, check out this web page from the famous New York Metropolitan Opera.

The four operas I've seen were with the Los Angeles Opera. For the story synosis, I've linked to various opera company web pages. In 2003, I saw Turandot, for 2003, Madama Butterfly, Aida in 2005 and last year, 2006, I saw Marriage of Figaro.

For 2007, I'll be seeing Tannhauser.

Am planning to blog occasionally in the countdown to seeing it and of course will do a post after I see the opera.

Anyway, a part of me laughs at the whole idea of opera. As I say, it is way over-the-top and the price of the ticket means it (attending live performances) would never be a regular part of the average person's life.

However, I remain intrigued. Part of it is simply the fun experience of attending an event and the corresponding people watching of the people watching the opera. But another part of my interest is my need to grapple with the most primal issues of human existence. I wrestle in my private prayers and meditations. I contemplate through converstions with good friends. And, indeed, I struggle by experiencing the arts. Philosophy professor John Mark Reynolds (many others have said - I just happened to hear it first from him) has said we learn about life both by "logos" and "pathos."

Opera would definitely be in the "pathos" mode of communication!

UPDATE: I suppose the "pathos" of the four operas I have seen highlight the power of love as motivation. In Turandot, the lead character risks his life to answer the three riddles to win the woman of the story. Madama Butterfly is terribly tragic as the lead character holds a love that can only lead to grief. If you have seen Miss Saigon, you have seen essentially the same story. Aida also comes to a tragic end but at least the two lovers are together in their death. Marriage of Figaro is a comedy of mis-understandings but in the end the lovers all find there way back to each other and all ends well. I've read the summary for Tannhauser and yet again, the story is about love with its joys and despair. More to come as the opera approaches!

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