Thanks to this course, I can now say, “I’ve seen the Opera. ” The Opera was always one of those fancy occasions that I never felt privileged enough to experience. I’ve heard it mentioned in shows, movies, and novels; so there was always a surreal aura about it. Going to the Opera was something that the rich did in their spare time because they were fancy. With this in mind, I want to thank the entire class for sharing this experience with me. Going as a class made the whole experience much less intimidating.
Nonetheless, intimidating would have been an understatement. Before you even get into the Metropolitan, you are welcomed with a grand opening to three different buildings and an amazing fountain. Overwhelmed by that, I was frantic trying to find the class when I first got there because I thought I would end up late. Thankfully, I wasn’t. Upon entering the building, you can see and truly appreciate the details of the chandeliers and the way it accented the velvet red floors. This in itself was breathtaking. Also, I really enjoyed the seats we ended up with because they made me feel fancy.
The performance was nothing I expected it to be. Initially, I didn’t think I would enjoy the Opera because I thought it would be hard to understand. It didn’t appeal to me to hear loud singing in another language for 4 hours. However, all of the different aspects of the Opera truly came together nicely. From the subtitles that were very strategically placed to the famous storyline of Carmen, I felt rather relaxed going into the performance. The way the performers sang was astounding. I was amazed at the lung and brain capacity they had and needed to be able to sing, dance, and act to put the show on. Going to the Opera is something I am so grateful to have been exposed to. I can truly say I enjoyed the performance and plan on attending another.
Since high school, I’ve dreamed of going to see an opera determined not to fall asleep (which I succeeded in), but it always seemed far-fetched considering I rarely had hundreds of dollars to spare for a ticket. Clearly, when we got the opportunity to see a classic like Carmen for free, I was ecstatic. Before college I took a music class for six years, which I loved because music is my ultimate obsession. Needless to say, the music in Carmen infatuated me. Most alluring to me was Carmen’s leitmotif (the recurring melody associated with a character) that I sang for days after the performance. I tried a little experiment during the performance where I didn’t use subtitles for the first half and did use them for the second half. I found that I enjoyed it more solely by watching and listening rather than focusing on translations. It isn’t necessary to understand the words especially when most of them are repeated. Feeling the emotion and tone in the music is enough to comprehend the storyline and it allows you to experience the opera instead of looking at a screen. Speaking of the storyline, I loved the plot based on the strong, defiant and beautiful Carmen, but I was dissatisfied with her murder. I felt it was somehow unimpressive because the opera is known to be overly dramatic, so I thought her death would be more public and theatrical. After Professor Eversley showed us Beyonce’s Hip Hopera, I was interested in discovering more Carmen inspired art and I realized a song I loved for years was named after her by Lana Del Rey that tells the story of a promiscuous, independent woman. All in all, my first opera experience left me wanting more which is why I am trying to convince my uncle to buy us tickets for Mozart’s The Magic Flute even though he wants to see The Marriage of Figaro.
Going to the opera for the first time last week was quite a strange experience, whether it be for the fact that we had to watch a performance from such as elevated height (which I actually quite liked) or the fact that I actually ended up enjoying an event that I was not looking forward to. The largest fear i had towards going to the opera was obviously falling asleep, yet there was more than enough interesting things that occurred that caught my attention. Whether it be the extravagent sets or the clothing, I was definitely interested. However, the thing that caught my attention during the whole performance the most was the music of Carmen, especially the individual arias performed by the singers. Down below, I’m going to talk a little about some of my favorite musical moments from Carmen.
Habanera – Carmen
Definitely the most recognizable aria from the opera, the reasons behind the popularity of the habanera is quite clear. The whole of the habanera is followed by an immediately recognizable set of cello notes from which the whole aria is based around, whether it be the backing chorus behind Carmen or the phrasing of the words that Carmen sings. However, the highlight of the aria is quite clearly Carmen, whose repeated verses show off the seductive nature of her character and balance perfectly with the backing of the chorus, who repeat important phrases at louder volumes and different tones.
Toreador – Escamillo
While the backing to the Toreador song is also very recognizable, the backing rhythm is based more around violins during quite parts when simply Toreador is singing, while the percussion instruments join in when ever the chorus chimes in. The intention of this aria in relation to Escamillo’s character is to show him off as a majestic, brave character, and to show him of being of higher stature than anyone around him. All in all, while the aria does it’s job quite well and is easily recognizable, it definitely pales in comparison to the habanera.
Je Dis Que Rien – Micaela
The last aria of Carmen is quite unique in that unlike the previous two solos, this one by Michael neither has an easily recognizable rhythm nor the backing of a chorus, being a true solo. Furthermore, this aria only receives musical backing from a piano, rather than any string instruments, allowing for a larger focus on the singing of Micaela. It is quite clear, even without understanding the words, that Micaela is singing about her love of Jose. However, the aria suffers from the lack of a easily recognizable rhythm, as it prevents listeners from easily remembering the aria in the same why you would remember the habanera or the toreador song.
Opera is testimony to history itself. It has survived war and disease and the volatile push and pull of political disaster. In a world where the role of fine arts is a shrinking one, opera has retained its dignity to an impressive degree- statues crumble, paintings are stolen, but music is something that will prevail through the ages.
With that in mind, I can say this: seeing Carmen by Georges Bizet on Thursday night was an honor.
To me, one of things that made the show so captivating was the fact that it was in French. What I expected to be a drawback actually enhanced my night. Professor Eversley was right when she said that an English translation of the songs isn’t necessary for a full experience at the opera. The performers sang each song with a remarkably broad range of genuine emotion, and there were several times throughout the entire show where I felt the songs more than I actually understood them.
Carmen’s arias, for instance, are a perfect example. Even though I wouldn’t have been able to comprehend the literal meaning of her words without the small caption box on the seat in front of mine, I could still comprehend the shift of moods inherent to the scene- like below in the final act, when she’s singing about her need for freedom
When looking at different types of performances, I think that this is important. The acting that you see on television isn’t the same as the acting you see in movies, and that kind of acting certainly isn’t the same as what you would see in a play or musical. In television and film, actors can take several shots of the same scene, altering camera angles and lighting to emphasize details. On stage, however, there’s no such thing as a retake. In that way, it is important to recognize- and applaud- the talent of the performers we saw on Thursday. Ignoring the fact that there were no microphones and every musical number relied on a very delicate combination of vocal projection and the architecture of the theatre, I was stunned at how forcefully performers conveyed both their emotions and their intent.
Whatever I was expecting from the opera, it certainly wasn’t a breathtaking performance like this. It was my first time at the Met, and, hopefully, not the last.
Having never gone to the opera before, it was definitely an experience I’ll remember hopefully for the rest of my life. The day we spent preparing for it kind of made me sure I was going to fall asleep because I just don’t like what I used to term as the “ahhh singing”. (I still don’t, not really). But while we were watching it, the story of Carmen really gripped me. It wasn’t just people singing for no reason, but there was an intricacy in the songs themselves that added to the depth of the story.
The plot of Carmen made me very ambivalent. I liked some characters and not so much for others. Carmen herself was a little meh. I felt like throughout the whole story, she was too selfish for words to describe. Of course, she did warn Don Jose and he did spoil her by giving into whatever she wanted, but it was still annoying to watch her make unreasonable demands of which she was the main focus even when it wasn’t her decision to make. For example, when Don Jose wanted to go back to work after getting out of jail, thereby showing that he wanted to somehow reform his life, she demanded that he become a robber to fit in with her life. I was mind-boggled when he gave in because she ruined his life!
Let’s not forget how the amazing Michaela performed in the opera. That was a bone-chilling, hair-rising aria! It was definitely very powerful and heartfelt, and it gave her more of a purpose that she previously didn’t have.
The best part of the opera, for me, was the conductor and orchestra. I’m usually not a music person, but without the conductor and orchestra, the play would not have been as exciting. When the music became loud and fast, the audience knew this was a tense scene. When it was serene and slow, the audience knew it was a calm scene. The conductor himself would get into the music and half the time I would be compelled by his movements. It was a truly beautiful thing to see him bring all forms of instruments together and create masterpieces. I guess that’s credit to Bizet, who composed all the music for the play hundred of years ago, though.
All in all, the opera was a new experience that is not easy to forget. What I thought would be a snooze-fest kept me awake and interested the whole time. Three hours seemed like a lot but by the end it didn’t even seem like that much time had passed. The story of Carmen was definitely a worthwhile watch in The Metropolitan Opera.