Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Operamania 101: You Will Be Converted

The start of the season is almost upon us. With the Golden Anniversary Gala & Concert just around the corner and our first opera of the season opening up November 28, the office has been buzzing with activity. Most of us will be working around the clock to ensure that everything runs seamlessly.

We are now rushing headlong into our busy season, which typically runs from November to May. For me, that means that my dance card is full. Get togethers often take a backseat as I work nights and weekends during productions.

Friends have often asked me what's all the big hullabaloo over opera? What's the appeal? Why do people, season after season, buy tickets to watch such a grandiose form of entertainment? And wondering why and if they could ever get into such a thing?

These questions bring me back to that famous scene in 1993's Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington. Aids ravaged Hanks, preparing for his courtcase with his lawyer Washington, is suddenly overwhelmed with emotion when he catches the aria from Umberto Giordano's verismo opera, Andre Chénier playing in the background.

Like a man possessed (and over-acting), Hanks sways rapturously (with IV unit in tow) as he translate for Washington, the words soprano Maria Callas is singing in La mamma morta. Washington who doesn't know anything about opera is moved and transformed by Hanks explaining the meaning of the aria and his obvious passion for the art form.

I dare say, Washington may have just become a convert right then and there.

Andre Chénier is an opera about the French Revolution with the age old subject of the indifference of the aristocracy and the suffering of the imporverished. High emotions, most definitely.

Based loosely on the real life poet and revolutionary activist, Chénier and Maddalena are so madly in love, they pledge their eternal troth to each other. Gérard, who presides over the revolutionary tribunal, is also in love with Maddalena.

Wanting to get his competition out of the picture, Gérard falsely signs Chénier's death warrant.

Maddalena, having just lost her mother and home to the revolution is now faced with losing Chénier. She sings the heartbreaking La mamma morta.

Gérard has a change of heart and tries to halt the execution of Chénier, but is ultimately unsuccessful.

Maddalena, literally, will not live without her love. She then becomes a condemned woman and joins Chénier to die by guillotine.

With such universe emotions such as love, honour and sacrifice, it's no wonder that people are taken by opera. Some even become hard-core "fanatics." Opera's themes is all about the human condition. The music expresses all the emotions that everybody feels.

Asked why I've come to appreciate opera, I would tell my friends that it's the beauty of the costumes and sets, the intensity of the drama unfolding on the stage, the dedication of all those involved and of course, the music and the singing that reaches to the rooftops and beyond.

I am a believer.

~ Ling Chan

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