The Big Bad Wolf for the Opera Newbie

BILO, before I liked opera, I had the impression that operas by Richard Wagner were everything that turned me off to opera, but admittedly, based on very little music listening.  I found Mark Twain’s famous quip, “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds,” not only to be amusing, but pretty much on target.  So, AILO, after I liked opera, I was still intimidated by Wagner.  Whenever it came on when I was listening to radio, I thought it was too intense to listen to.  Even now I sometimes find it a bit much before noon.  What to do?  I decided that I would not listen to Wagnerian operas for a year or two, and then take the leap with the Ring.  Sort of soften up my opera resistance before getting into the ring with such a heavyweight.       

I’m not sure how long I waited, but somewhere further down the road, I ran across a recording called, “An Introduction to Wagner – The Flying Dutchman (David Timson, 2002),” one of the recordings in the “Opera Explained” series.  This opera was considered by Wagner to be the beginning of his opera career, even though it was not his first opera.  It features myth and romantic themes that would characterize his later operas.  I think it might be Wagner’s most accessible opera.  This recording broke the opera down into its elements and provided commentary with musical selections.  Ah, I thought, Wagner’s music is better than it sounds. Just joking, but by placing focus on the music itself and what Wagner was trying to achieve, my apprehension faded and I could enjoy the opera more.  I learned about Wagner’s motifs, musical themes he used to represent characters or ideas in the opera.  I began to appreciate Wagner’s ability to create music that supported and helped tell the story.  My strongest impressions of Wagner’s music in this introduction were his incredible use of the brass section of the orchestra and his ability to sustain moods by painting them with music that didn’t seem to progress with typical melodies, but just hang there as a backdrop, sustaining the mood almost endlessly.  Listening to this recording (more that once) proved to be an effective method to get to know Wagner.  So, I recommend the Dutchman to you, and now I am a big Wagner fan and really love his music/operas.    

And, it is about to be Wagner season in the Washington area.  First up in April, Virginia Opera is presenting The Flying Dutchman (you may also see the opera titled in German as Der Fliegende Hollander).  As usual performances will be presented in Norfolk, Fairfax, and Richmond; dates are listed in the blog sidebar.  Later that month, Washington National Opera will begin presenting the Ring Cycle at the Kennedy Center.  The dates for the performances of the four operas of the Ring, that includes The Rhinegold, The ValkyrieSiegfried, and Twilight of the Gods, are also listed in the sidebar.  I will have more to say about the Ring later, which is a really big deal for opera fans.  If you have any interest, buy your tickets now.  These operas are already mostly sold out, and I must warn you, these tickets are not cheap!