With no particular place to go, I wound up in 1965 with Mirella Freni and having a great time. Let me explain. Now that I am retired, I have time to spend in stream of consciousness thinking, no mandates or deadlines. When I was working, I had to decide, or was given the objective, that point C was where I needed to go, which then typically necessitated that I begin at point A and move linearly to point C. There was room for directed creativity, but not so much for wandering aimlessly. Now I am free to start at a point that interests me with no further directive, other than pursue as I go along what interests me. Starting wherever my fancy dictates then leads me to another point which leads me to the another and so on, until I tire of the wandering. The journey may wind up being nothing more than a walk in the woods, but sometimes an item of strong interest is discovered and an objective arises of its own accord, for example, I decide that I want to write about it; then, goal-oriented thinking takes over, i.e., gathering relevant information and verifications. The aimless, random-walk journey I will relate began with a decision to join Opera America. You can decide what the moral of the story is.
Opera America, in existence since 1970, is the premiere U.S. organization supporting opera; virtually all opera companies are members or associates of OA. It offers a strong advocacy program, including supporting increased funding for the arts with Congress. OA features programming and leadership in the following areas:
Creation: Artistic services that help artists and companies increase the creativity and excellence of opera productions, especially North American works;
Presentation: Opera company services that address the specific needs of staff, trustees and volunteers;
Enjoyment: Education, audience development and community services that increase all forms of opera appreciation.
OA offers a huge number of programs in these areas. The OA website is extensive and features several pages for the opera fan, though most OA offerings are for opera professionals; see my OA listing on the websites/blogs page. I have been on Opera America’s email list for some time now, but had not joined. Membership is open to artists, administrators, and audiences. Out of the belief that I would be supporting opera in some small way, I succumbed to the emails advertising membership and joined OA this summer. I didn’t expect much personal benefit other than the subscription to Opera America magazine. However, I had not recognized that membership also gave me free access to the Naxos Video Library, which includes online access to over 2,600 classical music videos, including opera, and membership is only available to groups.
I have covered opportunities for opera streaming in other blog posts, such as Met Opera on Demand, StaatsoperTV, Opera Platform, and YouTube; and occasionally opera companies will stream a production of their own and announce the performance on social media. The Naxos Video Library turns out to be a treat and a treasure trove of operas not available via Met Opera on Demand, which is limited to performances at the Met’s Lincoln Center in NYC. The Naxos collection covers opera companies in the U.S., such as the San Francisco Opera (but not the Met) and in Europe, such as the Royal Opera House and the Vienna State Opera. There are many search options that make it easy to find the artist or performance of interest. The pages are a little slow to load on my, Mac but functionality is fine. Some of the operas have subtitles, sometimes in as many as five languages, but some have none. Like YouTube videos you can move forward and back in the recordings. Some things I sampled by searching briefly were a 1978 performance of Carmen starring Placido Domingo and a 2005 Salzburg Festival Performance of La Traviata starring Anna Netrebko. It was exciting to see and hear Ms. Netrebko at an earlier point in her career, but not as exciting as seeing her in person in Eugene Onegin at the Met this past Spring.
The Naxos collection provides the opportunity to hear gifted singers not available on Met recordings and/or who no longer perform. So, it was with pleasure that I stumbled across a 1965 recording of Puccini’s La Boheme with Mirella Freni starring as Mimi. Ms. Freni, who was 29 years old when this was recorded, went on to be an international opera star of great reknown. Her voice and singing on this recording are golden. Rolando Panerai as Marcello and Gianni Raimondi as Rudolfo were stars in their own right, also with wonderful voices. The Milan Scala Orchestra and Chorus was conducted by the famous conductor, Herbert von Karajan and the music is lovely. This is an interesting recording because it is a studio performance and was not recorded live. The sound is exceptional, but unfortunately there are no subtitles and in spots the lip syncing is noticeable. On a very positive note, Franco Zeffirelli was the stage director and the settings are very attractive; they looked rather familiar, and I wonder if he set the standard for latter La Boheme productions. I didn’t find this dvd available on Hulu, Netflix, Amazon streaming, or iTunes, but it is offered for purchase on Amazon. In the year the movie was released, I was in college, enjoying the Beatles and Rolling Stones, with no interest at all in opera. That gulf has now been bridged, though not until about six years ago. I still enjoy pop music, but now opera is available to me in a way that it wasn’t in 1965, both internally and by streaming.