Opera provides the background for some of our most beloved movies, from The Godfather to Moonstruck to, not surprisingly, the Marx Brothers' A Night at the Opera. Most people enjoy opera when they see it on-screen, but under other circumstances have a hard time understanding what all the fuss is about. The typical opera plot is impossibly convoluted, the libretto is in a foreign language, and the performers, more often than not, seem too old and too heavy for their roles.
Yet people who overcome these barriers find that opera reaches them in ways that cannot be equaled by other performing arts. It is not simply that opera is the ultimate spectacle, combining vocal and instrumental music with dance and drama. Rather, opera is about the power of the disciplined human voice to convey emotion. When it connects, opera packs a powerful emotional punch.
A good way to taste what opera has to offer is to start with an accessible and popular opera. La bohème by Puccini, The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart, Carmen by Bizet, and Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky are all good candidates. Buy copies of the opera in both CD and DVD editions. Focus first on the plot and music by listening to the CD all the way through while following an English translation of the libretto (often included with the CD and readily available online). You'll get the basic idea of the action and melody. After that, pop it in your car's CD player when you're running errands.
Once you become familiar with the sense and sound of opera, you're ready for the DVD. Thanks to a revival of interest in opera, you'll have the chance to watch some of the most famous stars of recent history—Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and José Carreras, for instance—transform a slight plot into a moving human drama.
With this preparation, you should be ready to spend a night at the opera yourself! Look for performances in your community. Although tuxedos and formal gowns are no longer called for, it can't hurt to put on the Ritz. Above all, opera is an occasion!
For 77 seasons, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City has broadcast its Saturday matinee performances live on the radio. This year, eight of those performances will be presented live in high definition at selected movie theaters across the country.