May 4, 2015
I have been thinking a lot lately about the topics that often get my attention and appreciation.
In yoga or religious and spiritual practices we often hear that we need to live a life of
intention, mindfulness and appreciation. Most of the time I tend to apply these concepts to
interpersonal relationships or subjects/situations that I already get some enjoyment out of -
taking a moment to appreciate a sunset on a walk or looking for the lesson in a difficult
situation (because it makes said situation easier for me).
What I noticed is that I don't always try hard
to appreciate those things that aren't all the interesting to me. Opera for instance, takes quite
a bit of gifted talent and is worthy of my time, but aside from thinking "Oh that sounds nice"
I don't take a moment to educate myself or form any deeper understanding of it because I am not
interested in it. To me appreciation should apply especially to those things that I am not all that jazzed
about. As a person that loves to learn, I realized my intention is often to satiate my own curiosity, when
maybe it should instead be to appreciate what has been gifted to us, something a little higher.
So as a way to keep myself accountable, which is one thing I love about blogging, I am going to start
exploring and sharing these topics as a way to gain a deeper appreciation for them.
Since opera is what first came to mind, I am going
to start there...
What is Opera?
From my impression, opera is essentially musical theater, except the music is serious classical music as opposed to the
pop or jazz music used in musicals. They are divided into acts and scenes that have a variety of vocal pieces and singers.
Composers write the music for the opera,
while the libretto writes the story. Opera originated in Florence, Italy during the late 1500's.
Basic Opera Terms:
An emotion-expressing song in an opera; the big number.
Funny opera, especially from the 18th century.
A style of sweet singing, taught to singers even today, that emphasizes breath control,
a beautiful tone, and great flexibility in dynamics (going from loud to soft, for example).
Formal, serious opera, especially from the 18th century.
A moment near the end of an aria for the singer alone, with lots of fast, high, difficult notes,
designed for showing off. prima donna: The singer who plays the heroine, the main female character in an opera;
or anyone who believes that the world revolves around her.
A singer (usually soprano) with an extremely agile, light, pure-sounding voice, capable of easily singing fast, high notes.
Speech-singing, in which the singer semi-chants the words, imitating the free rhythms of speech.
The loudness or softness of a musical composition, or the markings in the sheet music that indicate volume.
A German opera with spoken dialogue (instead of recitative) between arias.
A little melody that plays every time a certain character or object appears; invented by Richard Wagner.
A man’s part played by a woman.
The script of an opera.
A realistic, “documentary” style of opera that depicts the seamy underbelly of life.
Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi
Upon researching the opera "101" sources around, most stated that the opera to begin with is
Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi written in 1851. So I decided to take the advice and do some research.
Who the heck is Giuseppe Verdi?
(kind of a Balwin?) was considered one of the best opera composers of the 19th century. He had written 17 operas before
Rigoletto, but it was his first masterpiece of three.
Verdi wrote the music for Rigoletto in 40 days.
The 411 on Rigoletto
One thing I never paid much attention to with opera and classical
music are often musical interpretations of stories. Many classical music pieces are based on poems
or literature. The stories or message behind these great feats of talent are what make them accessible to most
of us (at least me), so to begin appreciating opera past "Oh that sounds nice" would seem to require getting to know the storyline.
The Rigoletto story is from the French play by Victor Hugo called, Le roi s'amuse
"The King has fun or amuses himself". The play itself only survived one night in 1832 and was then banned
by the government. Hugo started writing the play more based on French King Francis I, but his personal
political beliefs got in the way and it became a more thinly veiled criticism of Louis-Philippe, so it should have
been no surprise that it got the kibosh.
The story of Rigoletto is mostly the same as Hugo's play; it is about a jester named Rigoletto who works in the court
of the Duke of Mantua and is an
unattractive hunchback (what is with Hugo and hunchbacks). The Duke is a womanizer of sorts, but sees one woman
each day that he takes an interest in and as these stories of zemblanity go, she just happens to be the
jester's daughter Gilda, who also fancies the Duke.
One day a Count (Count Monterone) comes to court to tell off the Duke for seducing his own daughter and Rigoletto
mocks him, the Duke laughs and the Count puts a curse on Rigoletto and the Duke.
Moving forward, the men of the court are sick of Rigoletto making fun of them and decide to play
a joke on him by taking Gilda, who they believe is his mistress and delivering her to the Duke.
Rigoletto is then forced to reveal
that she is his daughter, much to the delight of the courtiers.
Consumed with revenge Rigoletto, plots to kill the Duke and decides to hire a criminal (Sparafucile) and his beautiful sister (Maddalena)
to help. Maddalena is tasked with luring the Duke to a tavern and then Sparafucile will kill him.
Rigoletto encourages his daughter Gilda to dress as a man so that she can go to the tavern unnoticed and
observe just what a rat-bastard the Duke is as he flirts with Maddalena.
When Rigoletto leaves to let his
scheme unfold, Gilda learns of his plan to kill the Duke. Meanwhile Maddalena, apparently also with
horrible taste in men, pleads with her brother not to kill the Duke, but instead the next man that enters the tavern
and give Rigoletto this poor saps body. Gilda overhears this and immediately enters the tavern and is stabbed.
Sparafucile, believing she is just some random dude, delivers her body to Rigoletto who soon discovers it is his
daughter and Count Monterone's curse has come true.
An explanation of Rigoletto from the BBC...
The Whole Shebang
Some of the performances are a little...err creepy or remind me of Rocky Horror Picture show in a not good way so I went with this one, it
also has the english translations.
Transcription of full opera, Italian with English translation, line by line
Rigoletto Fun Facts
The most famous aria ever written comes from Rigoletto - 'La donna e mobile' (the tenor aria), you will most likely recognize it
and sadly perhaps conjure images
of meatballs thanks to its frequent use in pop culture.
Notable uses of the song appear in Grand Theft Auto, that Doritos Super Bowl ad where a baby is slingshotted
to steal his brother’s chips, The Simpsons, and an Argentinean ad for Axe body spray.
The aria has been performed by Luciano Pavarotti, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Three Mo’ Tenors, and Stephen Colbert (with an assist by Plácido Domingo).