At The Opera

‘Don Giovanni’ Preview

When people say they are “going to the opera,” the chances are pretty good that they will be taking in one or another piece from the standard repertoire. That’s what I call the sixty-or-so operas that are most often staged by any decent company. In my lifetime, this standard repertoire has expanded and shrunk — some few works have entered in for a short while others are dropped. But the list of the most popular works — all masterpieces that have stood the test of time — remains pretty much the same. The oldest opera in this repertoire is — …

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‘Otello’ Preview

Johan Botta as Otello (Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera) Shakespeare’s “Othello” is one of the greatest plays of all time. In the characterizations of Desdemona and Iago, the concepts of Pure Good and Pure Evil are contrasted, as is not to be found anywhere else. As for Othello, the play shows how the most powerful of men can be utterly destroyed by jealousy. The theme of a black man and white woman loving each other is to this day controversial, and is a fascinating subject that has remained appealing to audiences ever since the tragedy was …

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‘La Traviata’ Preview

After the passing of Beethoven in 1827, Giuseppe Verdi was the greatest musical genius of the 19th century — a century filled with great composers. This is not merely an opinion. In fact, Verdi’s services were more in demand by far than those of any other composer, and he was paid more for his music than anyone else. Yet Verdi was not the same type of genius as Mozart or Donizetti, who could separate their art from their personal problems. These composers showed again and again that they could create music of a beautiful, optimistic or even humorous nature despite …

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‘Barber of Seville’ Preview

Set sketch by Scott Pask When you hear someone say, “We’re going to the opera,” that person is almost surely going to attend a performance of a Romantic Era, or 19th-century opera. And quite probably, the opera to be viewed will be a “tragic” drama, or at least tell a very dark story. For of the 60 or so works that make up the “standard repertoire” (that tiny fraction of all operas composed that are routinely staged most frequently), only about nine are what you might call “comic” pieces. The most popular of these by far is Rossini’s “Il barbiere …

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‘Madame Butterfly’ Preview

In the 2013-14 season, Lyric Opera of Chicago is presenting three operas that are all in the very first circle of popularity, and have been for many years — Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” Verdi’s “La traviata” and Rossini’s “Il barber di Siviglia.” Many who have never seen an opera or know anything about the genre have at least heard of these works. So it may seem unbelievable that all three of these masterpieces, on their opening nights, were pathetic flops! In retrospect, however, there are understandable reasons for this in each case. For the first time, Puccini was so confident in …

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