My first experience with contemporary opera – or any opera for that matter…


In the spirit of writing more this year – here’s my second post of the year.

My wife and I went to see the world premier of Bel Canto at the Lyric this past Sunday.  We have been excited to see a production at the Lyric since moving to Chicago this year and finally got around to going.  We chose this one because a friend of ours played a role in the production and his girlfriend is also an opera singer who travels around the country performing.

Next up for her is playing the lead in Tosca at the Minnesota Opera this spring.

Back to the main story though – Bel Canto has closed but I thought I would share my thoughts on the performance anyway.  The opera is based on a book about a group of freedom fighters in Peru taking a whole host of people hostage in the Peruvian Vice Presidents house and holding them there for nearly two months.  A more detailed synopsis can be found here if you’re interested.

I thought the story itself was really interesting – the whole Stockholm syndrome phenomenon played out on stage and all.  The production quality of the play was superb.  The Lyric produced this opera itself and this was it’s world premiere and it showed.  The lighting at the Lyric is top notch and their ability to use a single set to cover 2 months of time, augmented with projected overlays to show things like the passage of time and changes in mood was just elegant.

The score was awesome too.  The orchestra was also fabulous – I couldn’t say enough about their performance.

So on to the performers themselves.  Since I don’t have a lot (or any) exposure to opera I feel somewhat at a loss to describe how I felt about it.  I mean, sure I, like every other person of my generation, am intimately familiar with things like the Barber of Seville and others that were covered so masterfully by the Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour on Saturday morning cartoons.

A couple people stood out – Carmen, one of the freedom fights had a beautiful solo in the second act and there were many points where individual characters stood out.  In general though I would have to say that Bel Canto was not my cup of tea.  Here’s a couple reasons why:

  1. Much of the dialogue was more spoken than sung and it seemed that the lyrics and the accompanying music where being forced together is some bizarre form of artistic torture.
  2. The cast of characters was multi-national and so the lyrics where sung in Spanish, English, Japanese and I’m pretty sure I heard German in there too.  And in some cases a single performer would “sing/speak” a single phrase in more than one language – I found the execution confusing.
  3. Many of the artists seemed like they were phoning it in as well.  It was the final performance – so I don’t know if that played a part in it but the house was sold out so it’s not like there was no one to play to.

Overall I had a good time because I was with my beautiful bride and it’s always a good time hanging out with her regardless of what we’re getting in to.  That said, I just didn’t really like it.  I’m not down on opera though – we’ll give it another go.  After all, if I can remember the entire score of Il barbiere di Siviglia from my formative Bugs Bunny days – it can’t all be bad.

Would love to hear your thoughts and comments on this or any other item I post – whether you agree or disagree I will accept all comments and post them on my site.