My first encounter with opera probably occurred when I was so young that I don’t even remember. For years my Dad has blasted this intense and often very loud classical music through every speaker in the house. Or in the car on the way to school. So, up until my late teens when I moved out, I was probably listening to opera every day, that is until I shouted at him to turn it off.
I say ‘listened’ when I probably meant heard. I could hear the music he was playing but I never really listened to it. To me, it felt strange to drink a relaxing cup of tea whilst listening to music that sounded like he was going into battle. (I imagined opera being the lady in the image above.)
Whilst I knew the opera portrayed a story, I never really understood how you were supposed to understand the stories as the singing was in German or Italian. Why would I want to listen to a song for 3 hours that I couldn’t understand and more importantly couldn’t sing-a-long to?
So, last week I decided to take the plunge. The Royal Opera House stream their live shows to cinemas and I accompanied my Dad to the live screening of Verdi’s Macbeth. Having studied Romeo and Juliet and Midsummer night’s dream at school I did not really know the plot of Macbeth, despite the obvious, everyone seems to want to kill each other. Desperately worrying that I would spend three hours bored not knowing what was happening I boned up on the plot so I was feeling confident when I sat down.
It turns out, by the way, for anybody considering going to see an opera for the first time, that worrying was pointless. The opera is translated into subtitles on the screen and it is incredibly easy to follow!
The opera was conducted by Antonio Pappano and Lady Macbeth was sung by Anna Netrebko, apparently big players in the opera world. In the pre-amble, whilst the actual live spectators were taking the seats, we were given some information about the background of the opera and a look into their rehearsals. It showed how the conductor pushed and pushed his performers, giving you an idea of the stamina that was required for these singers to perform at this level for such a long time.
In this introduction, an ‘expert’ commented that the casting of Netrebko as Lady Macbeth was perfect and from my novice’s eye I could see why. The character of Lady Macbeth is clearly the lead role in the opera and Netrebko dominated every scene she was part of. For me, her death was the one weakness in her performance. After a stunning scene portraying Lady Macbeth losing her grip on reality, desperately washing her hands that will never be clean, her death was her going to bed. A dagger found in her chest later. Did she kill herself? Did somebody kill her? It was never explained.
Anyway, following the story whilst listening allowed me to understand the delicacies of the music that I had never appreciated before. The way the style of the playing and the tempo and pitch etc of the music convey emotion is fascinating.
During the interval Pappano explained the music in the chorus. The score resting on the stand in front of him, (so many notes the paper was more black than white) he played sections of it, showing the audience, which parts made it sound sick, which parts made it sound supernatural. His passion was infectious and I found myself desperate to hear these things for myself.
For a complete opera novice, and with a self confessed love of bad pop music, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this experience. I have even found myself listening to it whilst having a cup of tea.
Image 1 from: https://www.channelweb.co.uk/crn-uk/news/2468639/violin-insists-its-on-song-despite-gartner-snub
Image 2 from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opera/what-to-see/macbeth-roh-anna-netrebko-full-fire-fury-revival-verdis-shakesperean/
That website will probably give you a more comprehensive review too!