– “The Merchant of Venice,” 5, 1, 83
The deep secret of Cory Farley, hidden from his legions of admirers in the Truckee Meadows, was revealed in a column he wrote recently for the Reno News & Review. The secret: he is a philistine!
Farley, so right in his battles with the reactionaries of northern Nevada as a columnist for the Reno Gazette-Journal and now the RN&R, is so wrong about opera.
“In my heart, I don’t believe anyone truly enjoys opera,” Farley wrote. “The ululations of sopranos, particularly, torture my ears. When that caterwauling starts, my hand snaps to the tuner like a frog’s tongue to a fly.
“I’ve been told this is a failing in me and not in the world at large but the belief persists: opera lovers are faking it.”
Opera lovers are not faking it. Farley should listen to his intelligent head and not his insensitive heart.
I love opera. I have listened to Met broadcasts since the 1950s when Milton Cross was the announcer. Opera’s magnificent arias, lovely melodies and lively tunes put to shame crass Country, raucous Rock and ridiculous Rap.
I never tire of hearing ballet music like “The Dance of the Hours” in “La Gioconda.” The haunting barcarolle of “Belle nuit” in “The Tales of Hoffmann.” The joyous toast to champagne, the King of Wines, in “Fledermaus.
Opera is fine theater with great lines in the libretto. In “Tosca,” the lustful Scarpia cries out: “Tosca, you make me forget God.” In “Otello,” the evil Iago declares: “I believe in a cruel God who has created me.” In “Der Rosenkavalier,” the Marschallin gazes into a mirror and realizes with heartbreaking sadness that she is getting old, her beauty fading.
I don’t think Rossini ever wrote a bad note. In stark contrast, Ben Jonson wished that the incomparable Shakespeare “had blotted a thousand” lines. Rossini’s operas, exemplified by “The Barber of Seville,” are joyful, tuneful and wonderful.
No one ever wrote so many great operas as Verdi and Puccini. Anyone who cannot appreciate their sheer lyricism, their poignancy, is fit only “for treasons, strategems and spoils.”
I sometimes get chills when great voices sing great arias. Even “La Bohème,” the most frequently performed opera, will never be a chestnut if sung well. (One opera buff says “La Nozze di Figaro” is breathtaking even when sung poorly.)
Listening to live broadcasts of the Met, I have been moved to the essence of my being when beautiful voices sing glorious arias. At such times tears stream from my eyes.
Every spring the Met, after closing its New York season, would go on the road for couple of weeks. They often came to Detroit, where I was then living.
My paperbook of “Stories of Famous Operas,” tattered and falling apart, is covered with notations of Met performances and singers. In the book I list my favorite operas.
No. 1 is “La Bohème,” doubtless for sentimental reasons. A vinyl version was given to me by a newspaper buddy in Baltimore, Pat Sloyan. What an introduction to the Joys of Opera! The two principal artists on the RCA Victor are operatic eminences Victoria de los Angeles and Jussi Bjoerling.
Others on the list: 2) “La Traviata”; 3) “Lucia di Lammermoor”; 4) “Tosca”; 5) “Aïda”; 6) “Rigoletto”; 7) “Il Trovatore”; 8) “Der Rosenkavalier”; 9) “Fledermaus”; 10) “The Tales of Hoffmann”; 11) “Fidelio”; 12) “La Gioconda”; 13) “Tannhäuser”; 14) “The Barber of Seville”; 15) “Madame Butterfly”; 16) “Cavalleria Rusticana”; 17) “Carmen”; 18) “The Marriage of Figaro”; 19) “I Pagliacci”; and 20) ”Hänsel and Gretel.”
Once when the Met was on tour I saw a performance by Joan Sutherland in Cleveland. Indescribable magnificence. But I learned something walking to the exit: every generation has its stars.
As I passed two grandes dames, one said to the other: “She was good but nothing like Galli-Curci.” (Galli-Curci was a great coloratura soprano in the Golden Age of Caruso.)
Wagner, a giant of opera, is an acquired taste, much like scotch. But some of his music is marvelous, his leitmotifs compelling.
I watched the Ring cycle on PBS-TV years ago, gaining much greater appreciation of Wagner as a composer and dramatist.
Opera plots? Convoluted, contrived, absurd. But what really matters is the music and singing just as the “music” in Shakespeare is far more important than the plots.
I have gone to Nevada Opera productions every year since I came to Reno in 1981. I go, not to be seen and preen as some opera goers do, but because opera is one of the great pleasures in life.
Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.