I have watched and/or listened to La Boheme 4 times since Saturday's post and I must say I am in love with this opera, have been since the opening scene, and my fate was sealed with Act IV. I think I could listen to it forever. In fact, I feel like an entire new world has opened before me and I am amazed at how much I have been missing.
Of course, I always suspected I would like opera, and as I said it is not that I have never heard an opera or been to the opera, but perhaps that my exposure to the actual music has been more esoteric. I wrote that I was more familiar with modern operas, but that was not completely correct. I suppose the operas I saw were related to the composers we sought out: the operas of Glass and Adams fascinate, but we would also seek out Bartok, Britten, Schnitke, Schoenberg, and Shostakovich. George loved Strauss and Musorgsky, certainly not modern, Strauss was a contemporary of Puccini after all, and we would seize any opportunity to attend performances, but many of the classic names in opera, the operas my friends would swoon over, Puccini, Mozart, Verdi, Rossini, of these I am still mostly unfamiliar. I love The Magic Flute, but then, how anyone could not love The Magic Flute.
I also love Aida. It was the first opera I ever saw on stage and I fell instantly and passionaely in love. I don't remember how old I was, my girl scout troup went, so I think I was somewhere between 11 and 13. After attending that performance, I began reading Kobbe's opera book cover to cover repeatedly until I knew the story of all the operas recorded therein by heart, just as I had devoured my mother's book on the stories of the great ballets. And yet, I didn't see performances of any of them until after I was married, and then only rarely. George had attended opera when he was younger, but said he was "opera'd out" from constant exposure during his first marriage and there was no reason to push. There is, after all, more than enough music in the world to enjoy. Any way, it took us years to use up the case of Metropolitan Opera cocktail napkins inherited from that first marriage. In fact, now that I think about it, we did not go to the Met until the last of those cocktail napkins was but a distant memory.
I too attended classical music performances in college and my early 20s, which was rather unusual among my peers at that time. But I was more comfortable going someplace like BAM than the Met, where of course one was much more likely to hear Einstein on the Beach and Akhaneten, than anything by Puccini.
As for La Boheme, I have seen 3 different productions, all from the Met; and I have listened to one of the two cds on hand. Of the Met performances, I enjoyed them all: The 2008 version had the grandest staging but I although the singing was lovely, I was far less impressed with Angela Georghiu and Ramon Vargas than I was with 1982 version with Teresa Stratas and Jose Carreras, where the acting and music were just beautiful, And yet I also loved the first version I saw, the 1977 production with Luciano Pavarotti and Renata Scotto. Perhaps they were not as well cast in the rolls as Carreras and Stratas, but listening to the two of them sing was still sublime, even if less emotionally rich. It is too bad there is not a CD of the production. The DVD was fine, but there were some technical issues as it was the Met's first broadcast, but it is really the two lovers I want to hear again. Wouldn't it be wonderful to choose one's favorite performers from each of the productions and combine them into one performance, but of course that couldn't happen. I suppose fantasy opera performances will never be as popular a sport as fantasy football.
My favorite version may be the last one, on CD, with Pavarotti again, and Mirella Freni from 1972, with von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic. It seems strange to me that I like two performances with Pavarotti; I was not particularly impressed with him before, but perhaps that is because my exposure had been in his later years, whereas here he is at his peak. Admittedly he is a bit of a ham in the 1977 production, one is always aware he is Pavarotti playing Rudolfo, and in the CD one just hears the music, so the story unfolds in the mind as opposed to on the stage. The only thing that mars this recording is the orchestra. To me von Karajan seems too Germanic in his approach, and the orchestra intrudes into the opera, occasionally battling with the singers. Of course it is not surprising, still there are a few places I find it annoying. It is of course perfectly possible that there is no perfect recording, and even more possible that were I to gather a bunch of opera lovers in the room and ask them for their favorite recording an argument would break out. So I shall be content with multiple choices. But I have to decide which ones to keep. And I still have one to listen to, a recording from the 50's with Jussi Bjorling and Vicotira de los Angles. George loved Jussi Bjorling so I am afraid that this one might make me cry all the more. Therefore it must be a La Boheme of the monrning, of sunshine, not one to be heard late at night, or during a storm.
Perhaps this is exactly what I have needed, a new musical love that is all mine with no shared history behind it. I can go to the opera, I can attend the Met Live broadcasts at the local theater. Of course I will not stop going to the symphony; just because a love was shared is no reason to abandon it. And yet it has been difficult this past year to filter the me from the us when listening to classical music, to accept my own taste as valid in and of itself. Allowing myself to rediscover popular music and jazz has been easier because they were never shared. This rediscovery of Opera is something new, something for the woman I am now. Perhaps it is the opening of a new, wider door, as I close another one behind me. I am ready.