The Greatest Work of the Natural Instrument


You know, opera used to scare me as a young child, and I was absolutely terrified at the thought of sitting through one.  I think I was intimidated by the raw power and control the singers possessed.

I’ve seen three operas now: La Traviata (Verdi), The Rape of Lucretia (Britten), and La Boheme (Puccini).  I’ve developed a strange hunger to see more that I don’t necessarily feel for musical theater, like Broadway.

I love both musical theater and opera dearly.  But, there’s just something about opera that stands alone.  If the reader is willing to stick with me as I sort my confused thoughts out, I would be most happy.

If it’s alright, I’d just like to explain my personal connection with singing.  I found my love of song before my love of dance when Mom persuaded me to choose choir as my elective in the seventh grade.  (Apparently, her self-proclaimed horrible singing voice was a huge contrast to my “beautiful” one.)  I sang in eighth grade and continued my freshman and sophomore year of high school.  All throughout high school, I took vocal lessons, even after I quit singing in choir.  My senior year was mainly focused on classical training.  To sum up, I’ve sung for six years and one semester (This last semester, spring, I was in an organization called the University Singers where I participated in what’s called a “backyard opera”).  One year was devoted to classical training.  Not bad at all, considering that I can only “get-by” when it comes to music theory and am certainly no music major.  Now, on to the opera!

There’s something appealing about a theatrical performance done in an entirely different language that I can’t understand.  It sounds really weird, but I’m absolutely serious.  Rape of Lucretia lacked the magical, operatic appeal to me because it was in English.  It also had some atonality.  The other two operas were, of course, were sung in Italian.  Personally, I think Italian is the most beautiful language that’s spoken and sung.  It’s also been the subject of some of the most breathtaking writing I’ve ever read.  Blessed is the man who woos me in Italian! (Just wishful thinking…)  On the nerdier side, I can understand bits of words and phrases when they’re singing because of three years of Latin.  Of all the Romance languages, Italian is probably the one that evolved most directly from its base language. (Here, the authoress must restrain herself from going into an explanation of the evolution of Italian, but since she can’t help it, she’ll add it as a separate section at the end of this post.)

This next part is a bit hard to explain.  The people who hold my utmost admiration are the ones that endeavor to do things I know I could never do, like math majors.  Here’s the thing: the chances that I’ll ever be in a grand opera are slim at the very best, but I don’t want to say I could never do it either.  I can sing, and I know that doesn’t really mean anything in relation to opera, but I still don’t want to negate the possibility entirely.  Yet, I find that I admire them as if I couldn’t sing.  It’s slightly disheartening, but my singing wasn’t a naturally given talent as I had to train my voice to get my sound. (*whispers faintly* That, and I don’t really like the sound of my nasally voice, which still retains that sound even when I’m at my best.)  Of course, all this negative thinking is completely nullified, when I listen to them sing.  My admiration overrides it.

Ah, that’s it!  Opera stands alone in its own class because it seems more unreachable to me than musical theater.  To be perfectly honest, I believe I could make it in musical theater professionally if I was given a real chance.  Opera, not so much.  Yes, now I understand.  It’s the allure and the admiration of what seems unobtainable.  If you’ve stuck with me this long, kind reader, I thank you.  Please enjoy this adorable Muppet spoof of one of my favorite pieces from Carmen by Bizet.

*The following is the authoress’ is a brief explanation of the evolution of the Italian language, which is by no means complete.  Please feel free to continue on your merry way if you do not want to read this.*

I credit the formation of the Italian language to Dante Alighieri, my beloved poet.  Back in his time, the scholastic language was Latin, but only the well-to-do could afford schooling.  Dante was born into such a family, and thus, was trained in Latin.  One of his earliest writings, a political treatise called the De Monarchia, was written in Latin.  His more well-known works, La Vita Nuova and Divina Commedia  are written in the Tuscan vernacular, the common dialect of the masses.  La Vita Nuova was his first work written in the common tongue.  The second is his Divina Commedia.  In writing this work, he gave Italy not only her epic, like Homer did for Greece and Virgil for Rome, but a national literature as well.  It’s easy to see how a language could follow the literature.  As to why he made the switch, I don’t know.  I like the way one of my professors put it: (I think this is basically what he said…)

“Dante decided to write these two works, which were very close to him personally, in the common tongue because it’s what he grew up with.  It’s probably what his mother would sing to him as he fell asleep.  Thus, writing it in the common tongue brings a sense of intimacy and tangibility to the pieces.”

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