I haven’t been to many operas, but the ones I have enjoyed the most were those I experienced at Lyric Opera of Chicago. A couple nights ago, my wife and I went to see Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. It wasn’t the first time I’ve been to Lyric. In all, my wife and I have seen five operas at Lyric.
But, here is the thing. I wasn’t always a fan of opera. It wasn’t until a few seasons ago when my wife and I decided to take the plunge and see Puccini’s Turandot at Lyric that my real appreciation for the music genre began. I admit, I was a bit apprehensive at first, unsure if I would really enjoy it. It wasn’t the first time I had seen opera. My wife performed in the Cleveland Opera for a year, and, of course, I went to see a majority of the operas she performed in. As nice as it was to hear her perform, the experience was different. The first professional opera experience was at Dallas Opera, while I was completing my undergraduate degree at a time when opera left me bitter.
When I was a music student, I really didn’t “get” opera. I didn’t understand what the big deal was when it came to opera. When you attend music school, music history professors love to shove all kinds of obnoxious musical compositions in your ears. All in the name of “you should know this piece by so and so because it is important.” When you are forced to listen to something, you appreciate it less. Hence, the reason I was bitter towards opera. After all, I was a guitar player only interested in listening to all things…well…guitar.
Fast forward to now, I have a greater appreciation for the genre. Perhaps I can attribute my musical appreciation for opera to maturity, but I think Lyric Opera has influenced why I enjoy the art form now. Don’t get me wrong, like any art form there is good opera and bad opera, so I am diligent about selecting which ones I go to hear. Everyone has their musical preferences.
The magic of Lyric Opera begins the moment you walk up to the theatre with street musicians trying to earn a few nickels and dimes. People are dressed in all sorts of garb. Passing by the valet it is common to see women dressed in elegant gowns exiting a Lexus or Mercedes with men wearing suits or tux. Since the season is always during the fall and winter months, everyone is usually rushing inside to escape the cold Chicago wind the city is famous for.
Once inside, the crowd lines up to hand their tickets to an usher wearing white gloves and a black cape. There is usually a line for the elevator, but once you are in an operator announces each floor and holds the elevator door as groups enter and exit. My wife and I have few dollars to spare, so we always sit in the upper balcony.
The moment of truth is when you actually enter the theatre. It is quite a site. The first time I entered, my wife and I were just blown away by the elegance of the theatre. There really isn’t a bad seat in the opera house, even from the upper balcony. The stage may be a little far away, but once the singers begin, that is when you know how great they truly are. Without a microphone, the singers have no problem being heard over the orchestra even when you sit in one of the top rows of the upper balcony of the theatre.
Depending on the opera, there might be an overture that performed before the curtain rises revealing the stage settings. Each of the sets I have witnessed are rather amazing. The sets themselves are a work of art. What makes the set so important in opera (and theatre for that matter) is it stirs the imagination taking the viewer to another world, moment in time and/or location. The costumes and makeup are the final touches to setting the mood.
Once the opera begins, hours of music go by that either break your heart, or smile with laughter. Depending on the opera, there may be a couple of intermissions to help the singers (and your behind) take a break. By the end, I find myself contemplative thinking about what I just experienced.
All in all, I leave feeling mesmerized by the experience. Often, I am deeply impressed the by the endurance of the singers. Each time I go to the opera, I have a greater appreciation for what opera singers do on stage. I also have a better understanding of why it so difficult to break into the opera scene as well. Few singers could pull off what they do, which is why opera is considered the grand prize in the singing world.
If anyone is ever in Chicago during fall or winter, then I hope you will consider experiencing Lyric Opera of Chicago for yourself.