Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Around 1997 I became disgusted with contemporary music. No, that’s being a bit dramatic. But I distinctly recall driving up to CD World one night, cash in hand and looking for something cool to buy, and after casing the store for over an hour, literally finding nothing to pique my interest. Nothing at all.

A change was needed.

A couple years earlier, in my band’s heyday, looking to expand my musical horizons, I began listening to a local classical music station. Over the summer. Didn’t get too far into it (aside from realizing I liked the music of some guy named Sibelius). But my ma bought me a “sampler” 10-pack of CDs, each one of a different heavy-hitter. Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, to name a few (but no Sibelius).

So, five years later, desperately seeking something new, I decided to throw myself wholeheartedly into classical music. I believe I wrote about that mini-quest elsewhere here on the Hopper. But in true Hopper form, I quickly grew bored of classical music, and again needed a fix of something new.

Why not – Opera? Surely that would truly challenge my long-held proud musical identity as a grunge guitarist. Surely that would make me grow as a musician, being such a foreign – yet well-proven musical influence.

I bought a “Mad About Wagner” CD, which introduced me to some of the famous passages of his Ring cycle, and a few others. It was mostly music, though, with no singing other than a chorus here and there.

Then I tried La Traviata by Verdi, The Barber of Seville by Rossini, Le Nozze di Figaro by Mozart. But none particularly grabbed me, and I was about to write off Opera until I borrowed Carmen by Georges Bizet from a local library. It was April of 1999, and I was in the middle of renovating my apartment. That night I was washing the walls with some orange-scented chemical before priming and painting them. The early Spring evening was that perfect balance of warmth and wind, and I had all the windows opened. And from the very first notes I was hooked.

I loved Carmen. Yeah, I’m about as far as one can be from hot-blooded Spaniards or Frenchmen. But every song had something that grabbed me, that hooked my soul. Very quickly after that, I had to hear more.

Carmen was Bizet’s only opera – pity, but the man died of a heart attack as it was preparing to premiere. Fortunately, I followed it up with that oft-paired duo, Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci, the “Heartbreaker” and “Living Loving Maid” of Operettas. Both remain with me to this day, in the form of a Christmas gift from my mother-in-law. Yes, Pav is headlining both.

Over the next five years I listened to a little over twenty more. 2004 was a particularly fruitful year. That May we moved into our house, and that summer, working full-time and painting every single room in it by myself, I would soak in a hot tub nightly listening to each of the four operas in Wagner’s Ring Cycle. My favorite one is Das Rheingold.

Verdi is often touted as Wagner’s rival. I must confess I am a Wagnerite (my father-in-law is a Verdi man himself). But this has not kept me from exploring the Italian’s work. I listened to Rigoletto, Aida, Traviata, Il Trovatore, Falstaff, Giovanna d’Arco, Otello, and La forza del destino. Though none are true personal favorites, I absolutely loved the ending to Falstaff. Goose-bump inducing, and a triumphant finale to both the opera and the composer’s career.

There were some dead ends. Though I loved Dvorak’s Rusalka, I never did get into central European stuff. The Bartered Bride and Wozzeck did nothing for me, and, traveling a little north, the operas of Richard Strauss ditto. But I did enjoy Die Freischutz by Weber. Go figure.

Puccini … some say he’s the greatest operatic composer. I’ll say this of my personal experience with him: La Boheme, Tosca, and Madame Butterfly did nothing to me (gasp!), though I grant the right leading lady in the role of Tosca can be incendiary. That being said, my all-time favorite opera, hands-down, is Turandot. The version with Pavarotti never fails, even to this day, to send shivers up and down my spine.

There was a stretch, before children and before the house (in other words, when Mr. and Mrs. Hopper had money), where I’d see an opera every year for my birthday. It started out with a trip to the New York Philharmonic to see a symphony, then turned into a visit to the Metropolitan Opera House. There I saw Traviata and Aida; at the Julliard Theater I saw Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex, in a hypnotic and strangely riveting performance.

Soon after this the long-suffering wife put her foot down. The next year we saw Jazz at Lincoln Center while my ma watched the little baby. And soon after that there no longer was money for trips into NYC. My interest in opera waned, then dwindled, then disintegrated. The last one I listened to with any real intent to get into the work was Beethoven’s Fidelio, in May of ’06.

On the way home from work tonight, though, on a whim, I stopped in at a local library and browsed their music shelves. Ah! Begging me to take it home was a battered and torn opera by – Wagner! Parsifal! Don’t think I ever listened to that one. Hmm. Maybe tonight, after everyone’s in bed, I’ll get the headphones and crack open the libretto …

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