Growing up in a working class family in Lancashire in the 1950s and 60s I can’t say that opera was something that I was exposed to, nor did I seek it out as it was considered “music for posh folk.”
My early musical tastes ranged from “blues” (Sony Boy Williamson, Big Bill Broonzy, Blind Lemon Jefferson), “rhythm and blues” (Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Lowell Fulson), jazz (Ellington, Ornette Coleman, Mike Gibbs, Harry Beckett) ands some American “folk music” (Joan Baez, Leadbelly, Jessie Fuller, Woody Guthrie).
It was in my mid 20s that I “discovered” classical music, in particular the music of Mahler, Sibelius, Bruckner and Shostakovich, and have remained a devoted follower ever since.
It was when I was in my 30s that a friend (who later became my wife) persuaded me to go and see a production of Verdi’s Nabucco by South Yorkshire Opera at the Crucible in Sheffield. Sceptical, I went along, but was very impressed with the production, and of course what I now know as probably the most famous chorus in opera “The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” This became known as the unofficial national anthem of Italy and remains so today.
In a production at the New York Metropolitan Opera a few years ago, the audience demanded an encore of this chorus, allegedly the first time that this had ever happened to a chorus at the “Met”.
Since then I have ventured out to see more operas, Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde in Vienna (5.5 hours!) and various productions by touring operas in the UK e.g. Beethoven’s Fidelio and Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
I am very lucky to live about half an hours drive from Leeds, where Opera North are based, and where in recent years saw an excellent production of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier and Janacek’s Jenufa. The latter I consider to be the greatest opera I have seen (even surpassing Tristan and Isolde) and I left the theatre emotionally wrung out, after two hours of stunning music and singing. The closing scene is one never to be forgotten.
People have said to me that Janacek’s music is difficult (particularly the Glagolitic Mass) and dissonant, my response is to try to listen to a different musical world and it will reap many rewards. I have included the finale of the Mass but be warned it is like no mass you will have ever heard before. The organ intro leads into one of the most exciting pieces of music that I know.
So, I shall continue my exploration of the “operatic world” and no doubt there are many masterpieces for me to still discover. One day I shall try to attend a full performance of Wagner’s “Ring Cycle”………..but I am not sure if I am ready (or ever will be) for this!