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First Operas


Timmie
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Following on from the surtitles thread below, I went to my first opera a few weeks back (Tosca at the ROH). I enjoyed it a lot and plan to go to more but probably only around two or so a year as most of my entertainment cash will still be going on ballet :).

If I am only going to two I need to be super selective. They need to be (unless you can convince me otherwise) in a traditional style and have lots of well-known arias and duets. I’m happy to plan for the long term as ballet provides my regular entertainment so I’m in no rush.

London is easiest for me to get to so ROH and other London venues are favourite. Hit me with your suggestions!

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La traviata I always think is excellent for those new to opera. If you want to play safe I'd wait for the safe-but-not-exceptional ROH one to return, in all likelihood next season.  Casting can sometimes be a bit lacklustre, though: it's such a banker that it has seen few big names recently and has mostly been given to "up and comings". (My fervent hope is that they get Lisette Oropesa, last seen here as a quite brilliant Lucia di Lammermoor, for it next time.)

 

ENO are staging a new production soon but it's to be directed by Daniel Kramer, whose few operatic productions so far have had what could politely be called a mixed reception. I'll be steering clear unless people I trust convince me otherwise.

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Well, Tosca was obviously a great start for you - it's one I recommend frequently to first-timers.  Short, dramatic and tuneful.

 

In the immediate future, on an "if you liked that, you'll like this" basis, you might enjoy English Touring Opera's upcoming Puccini double bill.  They are doing Il Tabarro and Gianni Schicchi (which contains one of the best-known arias in all opera, "O mio babbino caro") on 2nd March at the Hackney Empire Theatre, and on 9th May at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley.  It is a revival and I absolutely loved it the first time round, in 2011. Tickets are remarkably cheap especially at the Hackney Empire.   They are also doing The Marriage of Figaro, which would give you a chance to see another classic opera in a totally different style. http://englishtouringopera.org.uk/productions/il-tabarro-gianni-schicchi 2018

 

Lizbie1's suggestion of the Royal Opera's Traviata is a good one, and I have reason to believe that you will indeed have an opportunity to see it next season, with a good cast.  I would also second her advice that it may be better to wait for this than see the upcoming ENO one - not just for the reasons she mentions (a friend of mine has just been in the production in Basel, and it sounds better than I feared) but because ENO perform everything in English, and in my extensive experience, Verdi doesn't translate very well!

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I second RuthE- English Touring Opera are really good, and affordable.

 

What about some live screenings though as well? I have used those to broaden my experience because I can't  afford to go to live opera much these days.

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1 hour ago, RuthE said:

You might also want to look at the Royal Opera's La boheme this summer.  It hasn't opened for booking yet.

 

I don't know what it is about Boheme, but I really just don't "get" it.  Saw an ENO production years ago, saw the old and much-loved RO one, watched the new RO one on the telly at the weekend and ... nothing.  Zilch.  Nada.  Doesn't do a thing for me.  Plus I don't know whether it was just the singers the RO picked last time around, but the "garret" set really accentuated their height (okay, my recorder does stretch things vertically anyway) - it looked as though they were all cramming into the middle of the set just to get enough headroom!  Rather disconcerting.

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1 minute ago, alison said:

 

I don't know what it is about Boheme, but I really just don't "get" it.  Saw an ENO production years ago, saw the old and much-loved RO one, watched the new RO one on the telly at the weekend and ... nothing.  Zilch.  Nada.  Doesn't do a thing for me.  Plus I don't know whether it was just the singers the RO picked last time around, but the "garret" set really accentuated their height (okay, my recorder does stretch things vertically anyway) - it looked as though they were all cramming into the middle of the set just to get enough headroom!  Rather disconcerting.

 

You're not alone - I don't either! I spend most of it being annoyed at Rodolfo for being so careless with Mimi's health by slumming it and refusing to get a proper job/send home for funds.

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35 minutes ago, Lizbie1 said:

spend most of it being annoyed at Rodolfo for being so careless with Mimi's health 

 

Boheme - imho - is cast specific. These two, if they are the right two, can break your heart. But they have to be right, and that's rare.

 

And the current, new, ROH production has, um, not yet found its feet. 

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56 minutes ago, Lizbie1 said:

 

You're not alone - I don't either! I spend most of it being annoyed at Rodolfo for being so careless with Mimi's health by slumming it and refusing to get a proper job/send home for funds.

 

On the other hand Rodolfo is a positive saint compared to Pinkerton.

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29 minutes ago, Geoff said:

 

Boheme - imho - is cast specific. These two, if they are the right two, can break your heart. But they have to be right, and that's rare.

 

And the current, new, ROH production has, um, not yet found its feet. 

 

I agree re the new ROH Bohème.  I rather liked the shops and Momus set, but I much prefer the old set designs for the garret.  Plus I know Rodolfo didn't have a kingsized memory foam bed but I rather think he might have had *a* bed of some sort for Mimi - in the new production I seem to remember her having to die on the floor, propped up really awkwardly against a wooden column.  As if the poor girl wouldn't already be wretched enough. 

 

Absolutely, casting is important, but I must admit the music makes me cry, regardless of who's singing.  A cat could (possibly) perform "O soave fanciulla" and I'd be weeping.   

 

Bohème was my daughter's first opera - at a Welcome Performance at the ROH.  I think she was only 10 or 11.  

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Thinking about your question, I have a couple of avoids when it comes to first time visits:

 

Wagner, as many people can't get on with his work, and in any case the altered state one tends to have to put oneself in to get the most from the experience is not necessarily for beginners.

 

A less obvious avoid might be Mozart, despite the Magc Flute traditionally having been fed to children. The major Mozart operas can feel as if one has had a full evening already by the halftime interval (even, yes, the Magic Flute). That said, Don Giovanni was my favourite opera as a teenager and the current ROH production is back soon, an exciting piece of staging whatever some people thought of the details.

 

Moving to my main recommendation, Verdi (to stay at the same dramatic pitch as Tosca) because, as it happens, ROH Macbeth is coming towards us with a great cast (do anything you can to get a ticket, although I can't vouch for the production). You might want to save Falstaff, also on its way, for later in your opera career.

 

Turning to the ENO, Turn of the Screw is coming (and this always seems to hit the spot, is it producer proof I wonder?)

 

However, one never can tell. I recently got a standing ticket for Semiramide for a complete (adult) beginner, a friend from work. And that is a long show to stand for, as well as being pretty static, pretty daft and with music that not everyone finds exciting. She not only stayed to the end of the (very long) show, she loved it so much she is now converted from opera scepticism to wanting as much as she can get. 

 

 

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Actually I'd disqualify a number of works with dreadful productions, too many don't seem to enhance the story line.  Tales of Hoffman is tuneful and engaging, but I'd suggest watching a few DVD's with good productions to whet the appetite too.

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1 hour ago, Geoff said:

A less obvious avoid might be Mozart, despite the Magc Flute traditionally having been fed to children.

 

I've only ever seen the RO production of this (several times, especially with a certain Mr. Keenleyside), but I still can't for the life of me imagine ^why^ (and the last time I saw it I was bored rigid).

 

How do people feel about Eugene Onegin as a first-ish opera?

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I'm not sure about Mozart for a starter opera either, and of all the commonly performed ones I like the Magic Flute least: there are some fine numbers in there but I find it a bit of a dog's breakfast, frankly.

 

I love Onegin but it took me a few performances to get into it, though since I've got the hang of it I've seen more in it every time. What cracked it for me was the brilliant Novaya Opera production, done without any breaks and cast with a very handsome, age appropriate Onegin (remember he's only 25 to start with) who had terrific chemistry with the Tatyana. It was a complete revelation - everything, especially Onegin's character, suddenly made sense.

 

Before then, I'd have told you Queen of Spades, which I still really rate, was the more gripping opera - should that go on the list?

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12 hours ago, alison said:

Blimey.  Just looked at the prices for a random night [of ENO Iolanthe], and assumed it must be some sort of gala-y thing.  Then looked at a different night and realised those were normal prices!

 

There was an offer on fromtheboxoffice.com for ages (40% off most ticket prices IIRC) but that's no longer on.  Given the ticket sales to date, I would imagine there will be plenty of tickets at TKTS.

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8 hours ago, Lizbie1 said:

Before then, I'd have told you Queen of Spades, which I still really rate, was the more gripping opera - should that go on the list?

 

I would say it's a less obvious beginner's choice, and doesn't have famous tunes, but ultimately I agree with you.  I've been introducing a friend to opera over the last few years and she raved about the one Opera Holland Park did.

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Wow, thanks so much for all the useful posts. I will give them a careful read and research up on the suggestions. A couple of follow up questions. The upcoming La Boheme at ROH is mentioned, any further thoughts on this would be welcome. And no mention of the current production of Carmen, any reason to avoid this if I spot any returns or good Friday-Rush tickets? (I've read the Carmen thread but am none the wiser, a bit too enigmatic for me :P).

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15 hours ago, Sim said:

Please report back, Ruth....I am taking my hubby on Saturday night as an anniversary present, so I sure hope it's good!!  :)

 

It was very, very silly.  I enjoyed it on the whole, and it LOOKS amazing, but there were a few too many unfunny sight-gags, dialogue edits and bits of distracting stage business for my liking.  I liked it enough that I'll be keeping my tickets to return and see it later in the run, but I hope they take the opportunity to tighten it up a bit.

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