Thursday, September 15, 2005


The pure contralto sings in the organ loft

- Walt Whitman

There's nothing quite like opera, is there? I've been having an incredibly operatic evening. First an hour of Borodin's Prince Igor on my iPod, then a sneak preview of this new opera being presented the Opera Company of Philadelphia - it's called Margaret Garner and features a score by Richard Danielpour and a libretto by Toni Morrison (Margaret Garner was the real life inspiration for Beloved). And now, back home at last - the second act of Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio (an old post about the opera here).

The interesting thing about the first two operas is that they made me realise how deeply conditioned I am to expect a certain sound from opera. Or rather, a set of certain sounds. In my head there are basically three distinct opera 'sounds' - the Italians, Mozart (or rather late Mozart) and Wagner. Almost everyone else fits somewhere among these [1]. That to me is 'proper' opera.

This evening's performances, though, showed me how much I'm taking for granted in thinking this. Both of them, I think, push the envelope of what we're used to hearing in opera - Borodin by incorporating Russian folk music (especially in those uplifting, other-worldly choruses) and Danielpour by bringing in elements of Gospel and Blues music to Margaret Garner (I only heard some highlights from the score and it was in reduced form for piano, but I would imagine the gospel elements are even more pronounced in the full production - I'm told they have an extended percussion section with African drums in tow).

Musical revelations aside, it's been an awesome evening of some truly sublime music. Now if only I can keep that fat lady from singing.

[1] The one major exception is Bizet's Carmen - a truly untouchable sound. I suppose there's also the Bartered Bride, but I've never been that much into Smetana, outside of Ma Vlast.