Our experiences are not only made up of what we have lived through. Sometimes, experience stems from that which we did not do.
I never had the chance to watch Luciano Pavarottiperform live. I regret that bitterly. The immaculate voice of this opera tenor was a gift to this world and who knows when, if ever, another one like him will raise our spirits and touch our senses as deeply, as easily, and as unforgettably as the phenomenal Pavarotti. It is through this regret, this missed opportunity for not knowing how much time I had with to see the unforgettable tenor live someday, that my appreciation and curiosity for the opera has stemmed.
I am convinced that it was Pavarotti’s voice many years ago which in a quick moment convinced me to watch an opera at some point in my life and to not leave this decision to faith or circumstance, as we know too well what often happens to those types of decisions.
They say you will either love it or hate it. The opera that is. So black and white a calculation with no shades of grey. Perhaps that translates quite literally for some people and with such bad odds, they may never try the opera. Therein lies the shame. How is anyone able to know so well how the human heart will receive a certain type of theater, music, orchestra, and in this case, the opera? How is anyone able to predict the range of emotions that an experience as intimate and profound as the opera can stir up in individuals so not alike?
Predictions and statistics be what they may, there is not anyone quite as capable as yourself to know how exactly you will receive the opera. I think you must try the opera, and watch with your own eyes, listen with your own ears and receive it all with your own heart. In that aspect, the opera is much like meditation. You need to be open to receive it. You need to allow no barriers, no preconceived notions, no expectations to shape the experience before it has happened. Only then can you be truly certain what it is that your senses take pleasure in. And what a sweet discovery of endless pleasures to come to know and to love the opera.
Contrary to popular notion, opera is not exclusively for the rich, the old or the elite. Opera marvelously transcends the social barriers, cultures and languages. It is a pleasure for anyone who can be open to feel the sensations, the thrills, the sadness and the joys experienced at the mercy of the human voice and music. It is a roller coaster ride through past and present, joy and sorrow, elation and distress, downfall and triumph. There is an essence to the opera that is not present in a musical or an orchestra, and it is the power of the human voice at its edge that can touch your softest core and transform you even if momentarily.
My first experience with the opera was hugely disappointing; I suffered through Love for the 3 Oranges in the Sydney Opera House. But I give everything two chances in life. I find that our first experience of things has to absorb an enormous amount of information and if all the elements are not quite right, it is a shame and a loss to dismiss what would have been a great find had it been under slightly different circumstances. I can truly say this about my yoga passion and on an even larger scale, about the love of my life!
The next 3 operas left me breathless. Each time, I was moved to stillness, to a trance, to tears, to laughs, and to everything in between. It is with sincere joy that I share them with you and wish you occasions in which to delight in them.
1. Carmen – Sydney Opera House, January 2005:
Five years ago, I watched Carmen in the Sydney Opera House. It is written and sung in my favorite language, French. There are songs from Carmen that I had heard played in our house in Iran from my childhood but was too young to know the source. You may very well have heard the timeless melodies in one form or another. The music of George Bizet’s opera is unmatched for me so far. Carmen left an indelible imprint in my memory. When we left the opera, my husband and I had heated discussions about whether Carmen deserved her faith (she did not!). When I came back home, I gave a speech on the story of Carmen’s life to my Toastmasters Club. And when I play her songstoday (Maria Callas version), the music transports me not just to the Sydney Opera House but to my childhood when I first heard it. Such is the power of opera music. It finds permanent home inside you and refuses to leave once it has entered.
2. Le Nozze di Figaro – Paris , February 2009:
We did not watch Le Nozze di Figaro at the famous Paris Opera House. We watched it in the gorgeousLe ThÃ©atre des Champs ElysÃ©es. My initial excitement was entirely superficial and fun: I am in Paris watching an Italian opera with French sub-titles. Life is Grand. But then the house lights went out and the stage came to light and when the story of Figaro came to life in Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte’s beautiful opera, I was mesmerized. Thrilled to be following the French subtitles for the libretto with ease and the rest of opera with my heart, the next 2 odd hours passed in a subdued rapture.
3. La Traviata – Seattle, October 2009:
As a remarkable way to welcome autumn, we spent an afternoon transfixed to Verdi’s La Traviata. The main character, Violetta, and her ill-fated love for Alfredo is naturally tragic but it really makes you realize that you are not only here to watch a plot unfold, a love-story story that has possibly appeared in similar form or fashion in other works of theater, art and literature. No. You are here to experience something far more significant than the price of sacrifice by Violetta and the sea of sorrow on Alfredo. You are here to let down your guard, to be open to receive, even if concealed from the people and world around you, and to be completely vulnerable to the power and beauty of the human voice. Only then can you experience what the opera is all about.
Alexander Pope once wrote that the theater aspires to wake the soul by gentle strokes of art – to raise the genius and to mend the heart.