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Which opera for a newbie?

I will be in Vienna for a week in mid-December and thought this would be the perfect place to see my very first opera! For those of you who know opera way more than I do, which would you recommend for a first timer? All of these are at the Wiener Staatsoper, which is where I want to go.

Falstaff

Peter Grimes

Macbeth

Posted by
12040 posts

I haven't heard Macbeth...

But between Falstaff and Peter Grimes, probably the former is better for an opera first-timer. It has some good tunes and a comic plot. Peter Grimes isn't so tuneful, and the subject matter is rather dark. Unlike Falstaff, though, the liberto is English. Falstaff is Italian and in Vienna, it will have German surtitles.

Posted by
12400 posts

Hi,

You aren't given in the list my first choice for an opera newbie, that's "Magic Flute" (Die Zauberflöte) by Mozart.

Posted by
16165 posts

Falstaff is Verdi's last opera and a comedy based on Shakespeare's "Merry Wives of Windsor". The first production was conducted by Arturo Toscanini, so it is kind of a bridge between the 19th century and the modern era.

Peter Grimes is by Benjamin Britten and is a "modern" opera, so humable tunes will be in short supply.

MacBeth is one of Verdi's early operas and it is over 40 years between it and Falstaff.

The Wiener Staatsoper has subtitles on the seat backs with both German and English translations.
http://www.wiener-staatsoper.at/Content.Node/home/service/programmheft_vorverkauf/Detailseite.en.php

Posted by
1160 posts

Giving advice is difficult. Macbeth is Macbeth - a very dark subject, but being an early opera is the most tuneful one. It requires a soprano of immense power but still able to sing in a refined way. The scene in which Lady Macbeth loses her mind in recalling her homicidal memories is a very powerful one. Probably this opera is the easiest.

Falstaff is Verdi's last opera; it is a brilliant piece but music develops on its own, tunes are very short and you won't be able to remind any one of them after five minutes. The Italian text is very brilliant but, alas, in Italian. Verdi was so old and independently minded that it could defy any opera convention.

Peter Grimes was written in 1945 and is one of the few operas written in 20th century that entered standard repertory. On a first glance it looks the most difficult one, but it should not necessarily be. The subject is terrible, a fisher who regularly loses at high sea his young boy apprentices, so it is progressively ostracized by his village till he gets mad and disappears, probably drowned at sea. If you can stand it, the opera develops much like a film, has some brilliant moments, it is in English and may be the easier one to understand as it is closer to our contemporary sensibility. The scene in which Peter goes mad is a sort of parody of great opera madness scenes - Peter holds the scene for seven minutes singing alone, accompanied only by a distant choir and a foghorn.

After that, you may have a look on youtube and decide yourself.

Posted by
3107 posts

All three of these , are not what I would call potentially initial fare for a novice listener ( I like Fred's thought about Magic Flute ) . I would not turn anyone off from going because they are novices ( after all, we all started that way ) ,so here is an idea - quickly go to your library ( or youtube ) and get your hands on recorded performances , preferably DVD's of live shows , they are ubiquitous , nowadays . Read the synopses of the libretti , and make a choice based on your reactions. I spent my working years as a classical musician in NYC , but started listening at an early age , and one of the first operas I fell in love with was " Der Rosenkavalier " Set in the Vienna of Maria Theresa , I was a novice at the age of sixteen , did not fully understand the piece , but it affected me , nonetheless . Give one of them a try ( Falstaff would be my pick for you ) you have to start somewhere . The Britten is a favorite of mine , it is based on a long narrative poem by the British poet , George Crabbe , entitled " The Borough " . One of the orchestral sections , quite popular as a stand alone concert selection " Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from Peter Grimes " , give this listen https://youtu.be/VTd2aXLTA84 , Just returned from Vienna a few hours ago !

Posted by
4943 posts

It would have been helpful if you told us what sort of classical music usually pleases you. I have two problems with opera, which is that it takes much longer for the show to "go" somewhere than a play without music, and the total length of the average opera evening. I don't think a vacation is the ideal place to begin your experience with opera.

I would suspect that Peter Grimes will be performed in German, which will reduce your potential enjoyment of a magnificent work. It is extremely melodic and respectful of musical traditions, while being a piece "of" the 20th Century. It's my favorite of the three. But I agree that you would be much better off to start with Madama Butterfly, Aida, La Boheme, or La Traviata.

Posted by
16165 posts

I can't imagine that a prestigious opera company like the Wiener Staatsoper would do an opera in other than the original language. They don't do Italian, French, Czech, or Russian operas in translation, why would English be an exception. There are subtitles on the seat backs for German or English translations.
BTW, even when the Lyric Opera in Chicago does an English language opera, it provides English supertitles. Believe me, it helps.

Posted by
1160 posts

Larger opera houses usually do operas in their original language, as it is much more easier to assemble the cast this way. As a singer, if you learn your Carmen role in French you can sing it all over the world - and all opera houses can find singers already knowing the role in French and quickly assemble a cast - no matter where they come from, the tenor may be from Spain and the mezzosoprano from US, but they will sing together in French that is the show original language.

But if you want to do Carmen in German, well, you will find few singers wanting to invest their time learning the role in another language that can be performed in a much smaller market. A few companies, notably English National Opera, do opera in their national language, but they are very much an exception now.

Posted by
2163 posts

I find that most anyone can enjoy a comic opera. I saw Verdi's Macbeth this May at the Budapest opera and did not particularly enjoy it--had a fabulous seat, but I was sick and just did not engage with the production and left at intermission. While I am a fan of Britten's work, Peter Grimes may be a bit dark. Thus, Falstaff would probably be most enjoyable for a newbie.

Posted by
658 posts

Thank you all so much for the advice and recommendations! I'm thinking it will be Falstaff. Thanks again!

Posted by
183 posts

Falstaff was my first opera. Also at the staatsoper. I loved it. Am sure you will too :-)

Posted by
1173 posts

Whatever you pick to see, make sure you read the story before you get to Vienna and know what the opera is about. That is half the "battle" to be able to enjoy what you are seeing. It really helps to know the story before you go so that you have a better understanding what of is happening. It does not matter whether the opera is in english or any other language, knowing the story makes all the difference in understanding the story line. Also don't wait to you get there as they may charge you for a program and it may not have enough of a summary in the program. Also, when I went in September to to the opera I watched it all on YouTube and found that helpful to see it first and then see it live. I did not feel it spoiled anything, but only helped me enjoy what I was seeing live.
Have a great time and buy your tickets now in order to get the best seats and to get a seat. This is not a tourist attraction, many people who live in Vienna will be attending so you will want to get your seats as soon as possible before it is sold out. Have a great time.

Posted by
1160 posts

I am an opera musician and I have to study operas from scores, but I have discovered that the quickest way to get an opera in my mind without even reading the score is by listening it several times on the car stereo while driving :-)

Posted by
3107 posts

Lachera , what is your instrument ? I am a bassoonist .

Posted by
1160 posts

I am an opera librarian, dealing with scores and musical instruments

Posted by
3107 posts

Glad to make your acquaintance , My best , Steve