Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Ride of the Valkyries

People always seem surprised when I mention that I enjoy the opera. I'm not sure why this is. My love of movie musicals is well documented, and at the risk of making true opera buffs clutch their pearls as they sink into a dead faint, opera is like a musical writ large.

Technically, movie musicals developed from musical theater, which dates back to the ancient Greeks. The same Renaissance that brought us the development of opera as we know it also brought us the evolution of musical theater, both of which were based in a revival of Greek drama. So true opera buffs should drop their pearls and lighten up.

I ask you: what's not to like about a theater genre where someone is stabbed, poisoned, dies of consumption - or pops off the the Great Beyond in some way that is dramatic and yet not too messy - and before doing so, spends five or ten minutes singing about how sad it all is? In fact, when Don Giovanni is carried off by demons at the end of Act II, it's surprising that he doesn't sing a bit about how he regrets his evil deeds. Maybe that's the point. Perhaps Don Giovanni (a.k.a. Don Juan) is so morally bankrupt that even as he is being dragged to hell he is not lamenting his behavior. But still, I found myself thinking where did he go, and why isn't he singing about it?

Of course, there is a lot more to the opera than death scenes. There is a lot of humor and emotion. There are gorgeous sets and costumes. Depending on the opera, there can be twisted and convoluted plots with amusing or satisfying resolutions, or a touching and romantic love story - with or without a death at the end. The music and voices are just breathtaking. It really is a lot of fun.

Opera is much more accessible than people think. I was surprised to discover that I was familiar with a lot of the music - if not the plots - of the major operas. All those childhood Saturday morning spent watching Bugs Bunny paid off after all.

The Ride of the Valkyries? It's a piece of music from Act III of Die Walkure, which is the second of four operas in Richard Wagner's Der Ring Des Niebelungen, all of which unite to tell one story with a total running time of something like nine hours - a challenge for performers and audiences alike.

But let's face it. To most of us, The Ride of The Valkyries will always be "Kill the Wabbit, Kill the Waaaabit."

No comments: