Thursday, 11 June 2009

What's Opera, Doc?

I have a confession to make. I do hope it won’t make any difference to the way you feel about me, but I can never be sure quite how people are going to react. Are you ready? Okay. Here it comes.

I love opera. Hang on, wait, come back!

Okay, okay, I know. I get this all the time. I say 'I like opera,' and the responses range from 'you know, I think I left the gas on....' to 'you’re really not getting out enough, are you?’ Well, all I can say is, if you’ve never tried it, and if you like music, theatre, or even musical theatre, give it a shot. You might like it! Opera is pure emotion, big style. It’s big stories, undying love, sex and passion on a grand scale, and if you love romance, the chances are you’ll love some opera, somewhere. And it’s not always the case that ‘everyone dies at the end’ either! There are plenty – loads! – of operas with happy endings where the baddies get their come-uppance and the lovers are reunited to live happily after, just as it should be, and just the way we like it.

Far from being out of touch with the modern world, opera reflects real feelings, real passion. When I’m writing, there’s often an aria or two as part of my soundtrack, and some piece always slips its way into the story. Here’s an example – near the beginning of my book A Different Kind of Honesty, the heroine Maggie Lawless feels she may have been betrayed by the hero. As it turns out, he’s as faithful as the day is long and always has been – but while Maggie’s emotions are in turmoil she hears a piece she knows on the radio. It’s an aria in which a woman sings of her sadness at her husband’s betrayal and mourns the loss of the love she once had. It’s desperate and beautiful all at once, and fits Maggie’s mood so well that I just had to slip it into the story.

'Maggie recognized the aria. The Contessa from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro; a woman alone and melancholy, remembering moments of sweetness and pleasure, longing for their return. Tears stung the corners of her eyes, but she blinked them away. It was probably just the music.'

There’s something about opera that seems to fit the way I write, though maybe it’s just that I’m too emotional for my own good! But I don’t mind that. If you’re an emotional writer, you'd probably find the same. Whatever your writing genre, whatever your style – contemporary, historical, fantasy, paranormal, romantic comedy, even deep, sexy, dark and delicious - I’m willing to bet there’s an opera you’ll love. Who knows? You might find something that inspires you.

Still not convinced? I think I know why. Opera suffers from a bit of an image problem. Mention the word and it conjures up pictures of short fat tenors who barely reach a soprano's bosom, or stocky females in blond plaits and pointy Viking helmets a la Bugs Bunny cartoons. Yes, I once thought that too, but let me tell you, that image was dispelled for me forever on my very first opera job. I entered a room full of young, vibrant, gorgeous individuals, all of whom were opera singers – and I was hooked for life. Here’s an example. Check out this link to a BBC news item about a recent production of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutti at Glyndebourne here in the UK. Scroll down the page and hit where it says ‘watch the performers in action.’ It takes a moment to connect, but go on, take a peek. See those two gorgeous blokes? Those two beautiful girls? They’re opera singers, all of them. Now tell me in all honesty – couldn’t you pick any one of them as a role model for your next romantic hero or heroine? I know I could, no problem.

And if you’re still not convinced, here’s my final shot. Here’s one of those four singers, a tenor from Finland called Topi Lehtipuu. Believe it or not, this guy started out as a rock singer! In Cosi Fan Tutti, the boys take a bet to prove that their girls will always be true to them, even if they’re courted by another while their own men are away. So confident are they of their girls’ fidelity that the boys assume disguises (hence the dodgy moustaches in this clip!) and each attempts to seduce the other’s girlfriend. You can imagine the shenanigans and the trouble.... But in this scene, one of the boys, Ferrando, forgets the bet for a while as he dreams of his true love. This aria is called Un’Aura AmorosaA Breath of Love - and though it’s in Italian, you know what, that doesn’t matter one bit. Listen to the music, watch his acting, and oh, I promise you - you’ll understand exactly what he’s singing about.

Enjoy – and may you be inspired.

28 comments:

Lindsay Townsend said...

Hi Jane - I'm so glad you've posted this! I love opera - the passion, the emotion, the power. I have a particular thing for basses - I love the rich velvet sound they produce. I always remember Ruggerio Raimondi as Scarpia in the live production of 'Tosca'.

I, too, listen to opera as I work. For my first published book, I had a heroine who was an opera singer and a bass hero.

I've sat in the 'gods' at Leeds Grand and also at La Scala.

Do you think you will have a singer hero or heroine in your work? Or perhaps someone working behind the scenes?

Thanks again for posting this - a real treat!!

Autumn Jordon said...

Beautiful. I admit, I don't names or titles but I do love opera. Everytime I search for music I enjoy the full rich voices, the music, the passion. I think I'll play your chosen selection again.

Your book sounds wonderful. I wish you many sales. Have a wonderful day.

Autumn
2009 Golden Heart Finalist
www.autumnjordon.com

Mona Risk said...

Beautiful opera, Jane. My niece is an opera singer. Because of her, I love opera music now. I never read a book about opera. I imagine it would be full of passion.

Kaye Manro said...

Great post! Opera is as you say-- but I do know this-- people either love it or hate it. To me, it's wonderful. Thanks Jane.

Jane Richardson, writer said...

Hi Lindsay! 'Tosca' is one of my favourite operas. Just thinking about Scarpia and the chorus at the end of Act 1 gives me goosebumps. I'm partial to a nice baritone myself, but as tenors go, I do like this guy. He has a very versatile voice. I envy you visiting La Scala, how wonderful. And it's funny you should ask, I actually do have a wip with a backstage heroine and a secondary character who is a singer! (But don't hold your breath....;-)

Jane x

Jane Richardson, writer said...

Hello Autumn (gorgeous name!) I agree with you about the passion and the fullness. There's a kind of commitment in opera and singers that I particularly like. Hope you enjoyed Topi on your second listening too! Thanks for coming by. :)

Jane x

Jane Richardson, writer said...

Hi Mona, nice to see you. How wonderful about your neice being a singer, and that she's passed her love to you too. I think writers and singers are very similar in the way the lay themselves open when they 'perform.' Maybe that's another connection that resonates with us? Good luck to your niece! And thank you so much for dropping by. :)

Jane x

Jane Richardson, writer said...

Hi Kaye! It's true, people do either love it or hate it, though it could be said that sometimes opera doesn't do itself any favours - accusations of elitism and so on. Things are changing, maybe not so much in the old-style establishments, but it's easier to see and hear good opera these days. I'm so glad you love it! :)

Jane x

Kathleen O said...

I can't say I love opera, but I do like some operas.. I like the light and funny ones... I have gone on a rare occasion and quite enjoyed myself.

Celia Yeary said...

Hi, Jane--years ago I watched an interview with some young singer, and the question was--"So, do you like opera?"
"Oh, yes," she gushed. "I LOVE opera. The Phantom of the Opera is my very favorite!" ha,ha.
Me? I don't exactly love it, but I love the songs that are rich and beautiful. In PHILADELPHIA, when Tom Hanks goes home to his lonely life, and turns on opera. Oooh, gives me goosebumps. Celia

Jane Richardson, writer said...

Hello Kathleen, I love light and funny operas too, and very often they have loads of comedy in them, so they're perfect pick-you-ups. Can't be doing with doom and gloom all the time! Thanks for dropping by. :)

Jane x

Jane Richardson, writer said...

Celia, that's funny! lolol Bless 'er, whoever she was. Yes, opera is used as soundtrack a lot, and have you noticed how many tv ads use it? So then the pieces become 'the Bailey's Irish Cream music,' or 'the British Airways ad.' I'm sure there must be US equivalents! Thanks for stopping by, lovely to see you. :)

Jane x

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Jane,
Its so good to see you back online. We've missed you, girlfriend. Bunches. Opera isn't my thing, but I greatly admired the phsyique of the young man whose clip you posted.
Hugs!!!

Jane Richardson, writer said...

LOL! Yes, Maggie, who'd have thought opera singers could have...well, phsyique??!!! Lots of it about, too. ;-) Lovely to see you too, my friend. :)

Jane x

Hywela Lyn said...

Hi Jane

Loved your post - I'm an opera too. I remember as a youngster being entranced by 'Carmen' which inspired me to read the book. Another of my favourite operas is 'Prince Igor' which had excerpts of the music lifted and used in the musical 'Kismet'There is so much power and passion in opera!

jade said...

He is my favorite tenor. I also admire his versatile voice--shining golden color in high notes, and dark warm color in lower notes (which made me wonder whether it was a baritone singing). I hope he soon will record solo albums.

P.S. I just ordered some copies of Cosi DVD as presents for friends, having owned one.

J.N.

Savanna Kougar said...

I used to not like opera simply because some of the singing hurt my ears. I know that sounds strange, but some country western singers have the same affect on me, makes my ears physically hurt.

However, I've seen a couple of operas I absolutely loved that were sung in English.
And, the Three Tenors on PBS, I had a thing for their voices.
The pageantry of the costumes and the grand richness of the story does appeal to me at a deep level.
Oh, and I confess, I always watched the Bugs Bunny Figaro cartoon when I was a kid. What was it? The Barber of Seville? I couldn't get enough of it. Okay, that doesn't count.

Jane Richardson, writer said...

Hi Hiwela! Yes, so much power and passion, and I love how you've picked two very different operas as favourites. That's what I love too, the fact there's so much to choose from, and you constantly discover new things. It's so easy to get spoiled rotten! Lovely to see you. :)

Jane x

Jane Richardson, writer said...

Hi Jade, nice to meet you! I agree, this guy does seem to have a wide, rich range. That's my preferred sort of tenor. :) I almost picked a clip of Juan Diego Flores for this, doing his nine spectacular top C's in La Fille du Regiment - clips available on YouTube! (and check out Natale Dessay's performance in that production - hilariously funny, and her singing is fab.) But in the end, Topi won out because I like his acting, too. That's what makes a complete singer, in my vvho. :) I don't have this Cosi on dvd yet, but it's my birthday soon......! Thanks for stopping by. :)

Jane x

Jane Richardson, writer said...

Hi Savanna - no, you're right, I understand the hurting ears thing! And there's another reason I love opera, the deep level you mentioned. Something about the innermost thoughts being revealed, and this strange combination of both the strength and the vulnerability of the human voice has some weird effect on me deep inside. And Bug Bunny totally DOES count!! 'Yooo're so next!' I love that cartoon, poor Elmer in the barber's chair!
Lovely to hear from you. :)

Jane x

Linda Banche said...

If you like opera, enjoy yourself.

I'm not an opera fan, maybe because I don't much listen to music. I like to read my romances.

But my husband is an opera fan. He wasn't, but now that he can see recent filmed operas at the local movie theater, or even better, find the hi-def broadcast on a satellite, he loves them. Also, he likes music from way back, and he's a romantic, too.

LK Hunsaker said...

Jane, I love when books incorporate music! There was a country singer named Gary Morris who did an opera piece at the end of one of his albums and it was gorgeous. I like most male opera voices, but have trouble listening to the sopranos. This clip is beautiful.

Jane Richardson, writer said...

Hi Linda, it takes all sorts! We don't all like the same things, for sure. Your husband sounds like a man after my own heart, though, and yes, it is so much easier to find operas even on TV these days - satellite does have some good points after all! ;-)) Nice to hear from you. :)

Jane x

Jane Richardson, writer said...

Well, LK, when it comes to combining stores with the arts, you're the one for sure! And yes, some voices can be easier to listen to than others, for all kinds of reasons...ha! ;-) This clip is a particularly beautiful area. Nice to hear from you, Loraine, thanks for stopping by. :)

Jane x

StephB said...

Nothing wrong with a little Opera. It can be very insipirational to the muse. Smiles, Steph

jade said...

Thanks, Jane. I checked out the clips of J.D. Flores and Dessay you recommended. They are great singers, but Topi remains my choice. There are clips of his concert with R. Villazon and P. Ciofi in Paris on Youtube, from which you can see his contemporary looks and wonderful performance of Monteverdi's "Perch se m'odiavi." As you said, one does not need to know Italian to understand what he is singing--just look at his face you will know the nuances of his feelings and thoughts.

As for his looks, oh...mine:))! Standing 6"3 (about 190 cm), with cute dimples, expressive eyes, and nimble stage movements, Topi can be any director's ideal actor! (He has already worked under the baton of first-rate conductors since day one.)

Given N. Hytner's superb direction, this extremely funny Cosi DVD definitely can be used to stimulate non-opera fans to enter the threshold.

Jane Richardson, writer said...

And some muses need more inspiration than others, Steph - especially mine! Thanks for stopping by. :)

Jane x

Jane Richardson, writer said...

I completely agree with everything you said, Jade! It's such a treat to discover something/someone new. Carry on enjoying Topi, I know I will too! all the best,

Jane x