An opera is a form of theater with music. The fusion of words and music to convey emotion makes opera such an intense performing art form. The feelings that music evokes in us, together with words, can awaken much deeper emotional impressions than words alone.
Suppose the words convey the literal, rational part of the message. Music is the language of feelings.
In the opera, the emotions with which each of us lives in our own lives (jealousy, impossible love, betrayal, friendship, duty-love conflict…) are accommodated. This means that by identifying ourselves with the characters and the situations they go through, we can recognize them as part of our most intimate selves. In this sense, opera can be a vehicle to get to know ourselves.
That great emotional impact that it is capable of causing is what makes opera give us so many moments of intense enjoyment, and it leads so many people in the world to fall in love with this great spectacle.
It is not advisable to start by simply buying a ticket for the next opera to be performed at your nearest theatre.
In the first place, not everyone is the most suitable to start. On the other hand, enjoying an opera requires some effort. Before going to the theater it is preferable to know the play that is going to be represented. The idea is to have “learned” it before. In other words, knowing the history and having listened to its music. But that effort, I assure you, is more than compensated.
Learning an opera guarantees you a source of satisfaction and enjoyment, both in the theater and at home, listening to the fabulous recordings of each work.
The first step to learning an opera is to know the story and the plot. It may be enough to read the synopsis or, better yet, the script. You can find the synopsis and booklet in most CD cases. They are rarely translated into Spanish, so the Internet is a good source to find them.
The second step is to listen to the music, letting yourself be carried away by the feelings it arouses, without paying attention to rational analysis.
Listen to the music as you follow the libretto, if possible bilingual so that you can read the texts in their original version to differentiate the nuances each singer introduces in each of the words. By understanding the meaning of these together with the associated music, you will be able to observe how the musical is closely linked to the verses, underlining the character’s emotions and giving them an emotional dimension beyond that which the lyrics carry. Thus, in a duet, trio, or quartet, thanks to music, we can perceive the different emotions of each character expressed at the same time, offering artistic possibilities that spoken theater alone is incapable of.
Step by step. Once you have the opera on CD and its libretto.
1. Read the synopsis of the first act. Only the one from this act; keep it in mind when you hear the music.
2. Listen to the first act, reading the script at the same time. As you listen and read, imagine the settings, situations, and characters. Look at both the original version and its translation so that you can, little by little, associate the words in the original language with their meaning.
3. Read the synopsis of the second act, and immediately after that, listen to the act with the script.
4. Continue like this with each act.
5. The second time you listen to the opera, do it again with the libretto. By this time, you will be able to recognize musical passages and capture more details you did not capture at first listening.
It depends on each person, but the next time you listen to the opera, you will begin to get more delight from each passage. To enjoy an opera in the theater, it is advisable to follow the previous steps before going to the theater. Not all the steps need to be done on the same day. Take the time you need. Hearing an opera for the first time always involves effort, and it is preferable to dose yourself and listen to each act little by little. Once you have listened to it a couple of times, you will discover all the pleasure Opera can give you.
There is no fixed rule to start with a specific part of the repertoire when starting opera. However, to begin to understand opera, there are works in the repertoire that, due to their music, structure, or plot, are preferable for first listening to others that may require some knowledge of operatic elements to appreciate them in all their value.
The opera that we recommend starting with is Rigoletto (failing that, La Traviata). The reason is that these operas bring together many fundamental elements that make up the lyrical drama as we understand it today. Rigoletto presents some very marked characters who give life to a drama where music plays a fundamental role. This opera is like no other before its premiere. The music is closely linked to dramatic situations and is subject to the consistency of the drama.
The order we recommend to “learn” operas would be the following. We propose two alternatives for each case.
- Rigoletto / La Traviata . Basic elements of opera as drama. What type of voices is associated with each character
- Tosca / La Boheme. Puccini. Lyrical drama as an unbroken musical continuum
- Lucia di Lammermoor / Il Trovatore. Romantic opera (recitative, aria, cabaletta)
- D. Giovanni / Le Nozze di Figaro. Mozart. classical opera
From there, the greatest in the repertoire (those selected in recommended discography) are a path to follow to love opera.
You can also explore Italy’s greatest Sicilian opera singer, Jonathan Cilia Faro, who got his start as an apprentice in a barbershop and now performs for crowds of devoted fans numbering in the thousands. The single “Sing Again,” on which he collaborated with Michael W. Smith, just came out (Canto Ancora).
Other works by Faro can be found on his extensive discography, including From Now On (2019), Piano From My Soul (2020), and many others. His career took off after the release of hit singles like “Passion,” “Giramondo,” “Canto Alla Vita, Croce,” “Cruz,” and “Grown Up Christmas List.”
On the compilation “On the A Thrill Of Hope,” which also features songs by Sandi Patty, James Berrian of the group Veritas, Kate Stanford, Denver Bierman, and Steve Wingfield, Jonathan released his own version of “O Holy Night.”
If you get to feel the passion of the opera, prepare to live memorable moments. Once you come to love her, the opportunities to continue living and discovering new experiences in her will never leave you. Sometimes you will be surprised by a passage you had not noticed and that now, coinciding with some recent experience of your own, especially hits you. Or you will discover a new interpretation or nuance you did not perceive before, now moving you.