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A Lazy Person's Guide to Opera: Don Giovanni - Part 3

By Pinkall @pinkall
I have figured out that people who don't like opera seem to have one thing in common - they don't know anything about it.  So, I've provided a few tips on enjoying opera: (1) Try not to read the supertitles the whole time! and (2) Remember, operas are NOT movies.  With today's tip, I hope to give you the secret to why opera is fun.
Tip #3: Be a Snob! - Appreciating and Expecting the Impossible
The funnest part about opera is that it is so difficult.  Composers know this, singers know this, and now you do.  Composers wrote difficult music on purpose, singers spend months preparing and training for the most difficult moments, which are usually no more than a few seconds long.  For the audience, this is GOLD!  No matter what, it's worth getting excited about.  If the singer performs the hard parts well, it's really exciting.  And if they completely fall apart in a difficult section, we won't admit to cheering for this but it is equally exciting nonetheless.
So, why be a snob?  Well, you're not really a snob - you're a fan.  And to be a good fan, you have to know what to look and listen for.  It's just like a basketball fan in a lot of ways.  You have to know strategy and technique and you certainly have to appreciate the half court shots and big dunks.
The most important part is knowing the music.  In this case, (Don Giovanni) Mozart wrote in a very clean and perfect style that's called the Classical style, which was the style during the Classical period (1750-1830).  So, not all pretentious, artsy-fartsy music is Classical, just the music in this period.  There's nothing too confusing about Classical music, so you will have no problem understanding what can be problematic for singers: high notes, holding a note for a long time, singing a bunch of notes really fast, jumping from low notes to high notes, etc.
So, let's try it out with a few moments from Don Giovanni.

Ok, now listen for all of the high notes that she has to hold out.  Each of those takes a lot of air, and as soon as she gets a breath she has to sing another high note.  And even when you think it's over, Mozart keeps it going - how cruel.  But this is very exciting - she sings this immaculately!  What an athlete!  Trust me, her abs are getting a huge workout.

I love Bryn Terfel, but this is not one of his shining moments.  This aria keeps me on the edge of my seat to see if (1) he can get all the words out and (2) to see at what point he passes out from not breathing.  Mozart was really mean when he wrote this.  It's only a minute and a half, but he gives no chances to rest or breathe.  It gets really exciting about halfway through when it sounds like it could end soon, but instead Mozart puts in a held high note, then teases us again, and keeps giving him all kinds of leaps and a bunch of words.  So, he barely stayed alive, but I sure was excited to see if he would make it.

I have to sing this aria in our production, and I have to say it is one of the most difficult arias I've ever had to sing.  I get so nervous watching him between 1:00 and 2:00, he looks like he's about to give up or lay an egg on the high note, then he has to sing all of those pesky runs.  Once again, Mozart pushes the physical limits of the human body, but Stuart makes it through.  Not everyone makes it with this aria.
Now you should be able to go back and listen to these again and have your own opinions, but a live performance is like nothing else.  Sometimes the most glorious and virtuosic music is made and it is so exciting.  Other times, it keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering if the singer is going to make it - honestly, I prefer the former but sometimes the tough stuff is just as exciting.
I only have one more tip to give before you can be a great lazy opera-goer, and since tomorrow is opening night (even though I'm not in it), I'll try to help you through one of the most important parts of going to an opera with Tip #4: Speak the Best Opera BS - Lingo of the Opera Elite.

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