A Night at the Opera

Sat 7/24/2010

When I was in high school, I played trumpet in the Jazz Band. I started listening to a lot of jazz and especially Big Band music. Of all the jazz trumpeters I heard, one of my favorites was Doc Severinson, for his pure tone, unbelievable range and cool old-dudeness. Miraculously, he and he orchestra came to Seattle while I was in high school, and I was lucky enough to get to see the performance.

At the end of the concert, he played a song called "Nessun Dorma" which completely knocked my socks off. At the time, I don't think I had ever heard anything so beautiful in all my life.

I was taking trumpet lessons at the University of Washington that year, with another great trumpeter, and the best teacher I have ever had, Roy Cummings. I remember I went into my lesson a few days later, with the program from the Doc Severinson concert. I asked Roy if there was any way he could get me the sheet music for Nessum Dorma. He called the music library downstairs and they gave him the call number for the score of Turandot by Puccini. After my lesson, they had the book waiting for me and I made some photocopies of the aria, and learned to play it on my trumpet.

I was already a little bit aware of Puccini, because of Pinkerton, which had come out two years prior. But this was the first time I had ever heard any of his music. Coincidentally, at the end of that year, my English class took a field trip to the Seattle Opera to see La Boheme

For college, I ended up at Oberlin, which has one of the best Opera Theatre departments in the country. I ended up building sets for tons of different operas, and working backstage on the set crews, where I got to hear a lot of the music.

I have owned a recorded version of Turandot for years now. Opera is great music for penciling - it's always exciting and beautiful - plus I don't speak italian, so the lyrics don't confuse me while I'm trying to write! Still, I've always wanted to see it live. I missed it by a few days in Portland when I was living there. I think my old pal Dan was actually working on the set crew. We hung out on his last day in town and only then did I find out which show had brought him to Portland. Alas!

ANYWAY, a few weeks ago, I was up at Quechee Gorge and I saw a poster for a screening of Turandot at Dartmouth. It was this past Wednesday, and I went with recent CCS grad Keny Widjaja. We were the only two people in the theatre under the age of 60 (Dartmouth runs on the quarter system - AND all Sophomores are required to attend summer quarter - so it wasn't because of a lack of students).

One one hand, I think The Met live in HD thing is pretty amazing. It was pretty incredible to see a world class performance of this opera for only $15. Plus it had subtitles, which made it that much easier to follow the story. It seems like a great way to get more people interested in opera (even if it wasn't working in Hanover, New Hampshire).

On the other hand, it's really weird to have a stage production filmed. Certain aspects of the set and the certain ways that the singers and actors moved, are MEANT to be seen from a great distance, and look pretty weird in close-up shots (in HD no less!) I found myself getting really frustrated when the camera would decide to follow some random member of the chorus, when I wanted to know what the main character was doing. I kind of wish they'd just take the camera out to the 12th row, put it on a tripod in front of the center seat, hit record and let ME decide where I want to look.

I know it's no substitute for the real thing. But out here in the upper valley, I'll take what I can get! Any way you look at it, I had a great time and it was really neat to see this story acted out, and to finally understand what all the music means, and how it is all interwoven with the plot. I highly recommend going, if there is a screening near you!

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