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opera

"The Italian opera ... an exotick and irrational entertainment." Johnson, 'Lives of the Poets' Nowadays, this function of Italian opera has been competently and enthusiastically taken over by Italian TV game shows.
O/004

"Do you often come alone to the opera?"
"Yes," she said. "Often. Most of the people I know either don't care for it, or regard it as a luxury. That's the last thing it is. For me, it's like being a fish put back into water."
"You mean – because it's larger than life?"
"It's exactly the size of life. There are just a lot of under-sized people about."

Two divergent opinions already, and as it is a subject that arouses considerable passion I could present many other quotations without any risk of consensus.

Chorus   Pah! We didn't surf all this way to witness a calm discussion of disparate views. Hit us with that old NGN one-two. Smite us with your incisive opinion.

Aria (NGN, bass-baritone)   At its best, opera is a fusion of words and music where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is rare. In general, the music springs up from a libretto unable to decide between banality and implausibility. A rickety plot creaks along on wooden wheels of recitative, stopping frequently so that every character gets at least one song.
This simple convention was too good to last. Puccini, Wagner and Britten (among oh so many others) devoted themselves to producing operas where unconvincing words were forced through a jagged comb of notes. Tunes became increasingly incidental. One mauvais quart d'heure after another.
Opera at its best marries music and words to convey an intensity neither alone could do more than suggest. This is rare. This is Così fan tutte

Chorus (Fuga)   Wow! Hear this man. He knows the score and read the book. He tells it like it are, like it are, tells the story like it are.

Later discoveries

The R's have it! and it's hardly worth stopping to point out I don't mean R as in Richard Wagner. Platée was the first Rameau opera I saw, and I fell for it completely. Comedy though it certainly is, it has its moments of true emotion: and, thanks to the precedence accorded to control and good manners in French baroque, without any of the embarrassingly unrestrained self-expression that makes (say) Puccini the style of opera I cannot abide.

As for Rossini, I'll admit I haven't made any effort to become acquainted with the heavyweights; and that I am happily, breathlessly, open-mouthed and amazed at the skill he takes for granted from his singers in the lighter works. The two Turkish operas are a delight, and Il Viaggio a Reims deserves a special place. Never a longueur, let alone a mauvais quart d'heure, just unflagging invention. Thunderingly implausible plot, indeed, but with music that ebullient who cares …


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