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Famous Operas: A Quick and Easy Introduction
The Ride of the Valkyries by Richard Wagner
Have a Look - You Might Enjoy Them!
In the past several centuries, a form of music drama called opera has become popular.
Some of the most famous operas included:The Magic Flute (by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart), Fidelio (by Ludwig van Beethoven), The Barber of Seville (by Gioacchino Antonio Rossini), Tristan and Isolde (by Richard Wagner), Aida (by Giuseppe Verdi) and Madame Butterfly (by Giacomo Puccini).
These days you can see opera being performed by opera companies in most large cities. In addition, opera can easily be seen on the Internet. For example, YouTube has many videos of famousarias [songs] being performed.
In this hubpage, I will begin my introduction to opera by looking at Puccini's Madame Butterfly...
Madame Butterfly (by Giacomo Puccini)
Puccini's opera, Madame Butterfly, first appeared at La Scala opera theatre in 1904.
The opera tells a tale of love and abandonment. Pinkerton, an American naval officer, comes to Japan and falls in love with a Japanese lady, Madame Butterfly, who in turn trusts her heart to him.
They are married but Pinkerton sees his Japanese marriage as just a temporary one, valid only till the day when he will return to America for "a real marriage, a real wife from America."
Pinkerton goes away with the Navy for three years and then returns with his new American wife.
A tragedy now occurs -- for Butterfly believes that "Death with honour is better than life with dishonour!".
The aria "One Fine Day" from Madame Butterfly
Puccini Without Excuses: A Refreshing Reassessment of the World's Most Popular Composer
Opera doesn't have to be deadly serious. This book takes a fun and refreshing approach to this great work.
Interior of the Paris Opera, 2006
Where Can I See Opera? Top Opera Houses
- Metropolitan Opera, New York, United States
The Metropolitan Opera is a vibrant home for the world's most creative and talented artists working in opera, including singers, conductors, composers, orchestra musicians, stage directors, designers, visual artists, choreographers, and dance
- Lyric Opera of Chicago, Chicago, United States
Lyric Opera of Chicago. Season info, tickets, plan your visit, opera education and more.
- Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Italy
Welcome to the website of the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, where you can book tickets online, view the season programme (opera, ballet, concert) and discover the theatre through videos and images.
- Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
The Sydney Opera House, built beside beautiful Sydney Harbour, is one of the greatest examples of 20th century architecture.
Opera Houses of the World
Great Operas -- Country by Country
Some of the greatest operas have come from Italy, Germany/Austria, France, Russia and England.
Here are some of the greatest names that most people will have heard of:
Italy: Rossini (The Barber of Seville, William Tell), Verdi (La Traviata, Aida), Donizetti (Lucia di Lammermoor), Puccini (Madame Butterfly)
Germany: Mozart (The Magic Flute), Beethoven (Fidelio), Wagner (Tristan and Isolde, The Valkyries, The Flying Dutchman)
France: Bizet (Carmen), Berlioz (The Damnation of Faust), Goundo (Romeo and Juliet)
Russia: Tchaikovsky (Eugene Onegin), Stravinsky (The Rake's Progress), Shostakovich (Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District)
England: Britten (Peter Grimes)
TIP: If you wanted to start with just three operas, I would suggest:
- Rossini - The Barber of Seville
- Mozart - The Magic Flute
- Verdi - Aida
- Wagner - Tristan and Isolde
- Puccini - Madame Butterfly
The lively Largo al Factotum aria from Rossini's Barber of Seville
Richard Wagner's Opera Revolution
Richard Wagner set the opera world on fire with his revolutionary view of opera and of music.
He promoted what he called Zukunftsmusik (Tomorrow's Music) in which instrumental performance, song, drama and art all formed one indisoluble whole and together created an uplifting experience never before experienced.
He also wove leitmotifs throughout his operas -- each one of which represented a theme.
Wagner's operas were huge affairs, not least in the length of time which they take to perform. For example, the Ring of the Nibelungen (a series of four operas including the the Valkyries) takes four evenings and anything from 15 to 20 hours to perform in all (depending of the speed of the conductor in charge).
For your interest, I attach a dramatic example of Wagner's instrumental and choral work in the following video, "The Ride of the Valkyries"(from Act 3 of his opera, The Valkyries).
The Ride of the Valkyries (by Richard Wagner)
Opera For Dummies
A brief and light-hearted look at several dozen of the better known operas. This book comes with a CD of CD with operatic snippets from the great operas.
Don't be put off by this book's title. This book is NOT for dummies. It is just a fun and irreverent introduction that will have you interested in the subject in no time!
The Music is Great but I Cannot Understand the Lingo!
Many great operas have unforgetable music with arias (songs) that once heard will never be forgotten.
And yes, the music is soaring and takes the listener to the heights of bliss and often the depths of unhappiness.
But it is an undeniable truth that many of the great operas are written in foreign languages -- particularly Italian, German, French and Russian.
The good news is that many opera DVDs these days come with the option to view the operas with English subtitles. An easy and profitable way to understand what the singers are saying.
Some of the greatest operas now have the original text (lyrics) and an English translation of each aria on the Internet. To get you going, here is a nice selection of the greatest arias in the original language and in translation.
But to really enjoy great operas in depth, it is necessary to study one or more of these languages. This is a task which is not as difficult as it may sound as there are specially designed "fast track" courses that teach the essentials of the chosen languages necessary for understanding opera (rather than a technical or everyday understanding that a learner would be expect to learn to be labelled a fluent speaker).
Some self-teaching courses published by Assimil or by Linguaphone will have you up and running with an everyday knowledge of your chosen language in less than six months.
Some people combine a trip to Europe with a course studying the language of the their favorite operas. For example, the Scuola Leonardo da Vinci (School Leonardo da Vinci) has classes in Rome, Florence, Siena and Milan teacing the "language of the opera".
A Lecture on the Romantic era of opera (Verdi, etc.)
Test your knowledge of opera
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Opera 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera
This book is a light but intelligent "do it yourself" course on opera.
After a short introductory chapter and then a 90 page history of the opera, we learn about eleven of the great operas. Information is given on key composers, conductors and singers and on topics such as French opera, grand opera, etc.
Useful Links for Learning about Opera
- Opera Australia - Opera for Beginners
Some practical advice and tips for adults. This page is from the Sydney Opera House.
- Hansel and Gretel: Learning about Opera! [KUSC Kids]
A multimedia presentation for children about the Hansel and Gretel opera.
- Richard Wagner - Famous Quotes and Quotations
Some people LOVE Wagner, other people HATE him. An entertaining collection of quotes about Wagner -- and some by the great man himself.
- Schools of Opera
A short introduction to the major national schools of opera - the Italian, French and German.
© 2012 David Paul Wagner