Monday, November 8, 2010

The Lyric Opera’s filling Bellini

Bellini is not the name for an Italian delicacy or dish, but after experiencing his opera “Norma”, I came away feeling as if I’d consumed a seven course feast for the soul. The combined ingredients of the complex score, the performing artists with their incredible instruments of voice, the orchestras nuanced precision, elegant atmospheric sets, the resonant narrative of an occupying Roman Army and the occupied people of Gaul, and the subtle lighting offered a rich sensory experience.

This was my first Bellini. Pieces of the music sounded familiar. I didn’t worry about not having a full appreciation for the “bel canto” style of Opera. I just gave in, sat, relaxed and allowed myself to be transported and fed along the way.

It’s unusual to have the opportunity to hear this opera. It’s difficult and stretches the vocal instruments. Before its first performance, Bellini had to convince the lead, Giuditta Pasta, to give the role of Norma a go. He coached her personally past her intimidation. Maria Callas and Dame Joan Sutherland performed amazing Normas. Brenda Harris is here in Kansas City to offer her stunning performance and interpretation.

You may be intimidated by opera. Too long, too old (this one first performed in 1831), irrelevant and you may not speak Italian. But opera can be an approachable art form. Consider the artistic continuity that extends back from your favorite Broadway musical back to Vincenzo Bellini’s time. You may consider this music the stuff for the mythical upper class but it’s actually music for the masses. I remember hearing my first opera, The Barber of Seville, from a record my mother purchased with a coupon at the local A&P foodstore. The colors of Caruso’s voice were familiar sounds in the industrial row houses in my neighborhood.

In this day of diets and light low calorie foods, familiar three chord popular music, when Broadway has become Las Vegas East, you deserve a bit of richness. This opera reminded me of my favorite painting at our Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Caravaggio’s St. John the Baptist. There’s a great deal going on in that painting. I come away each time wanting to go back again. Bellini’s Norma made me feel the same way. Art makes you feel…rich in a way that transcends numbers.

Go ahead. Have a Bellini at our Lyric Opera.

Photographs of the production by Karen Almond courtesy of the Lyric Opera.

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