Ringing the Changes

Happy New Year!

I don’t usually bother making new year’s resolutions but I do sometimes like to set myself a few informal goals for the coming year. Last year, I had a few opera-related goals. One was to see a live opera, which I didn’t manage to achieve, although I’m more likely to manage it now that our local theatre has reopened (as of December) and is promising occasional operas amongst its programme. Another was to start exploring the Russian opera repertoire (the source of my first two encounters with live opera back in the early 1990s) — I succeeded in revisiting both of the Russian operas I’d seen live: Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades and Prokofiev’s Love of Three Oranges; I also listened to Eugene Onegin (another Tchaikovsky work and possibly the most popular Russian opera in the world) and I look forward to watching it on DVD soon (along with Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, another of the “great” Russian operas).

My big goal, though, was to properly acquaint myself with Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle. This is a story (based on Teutonic mythology) spread out over four operas, lasting a grand total of about 15 hours, so it’s not for the faint-hearted. Indeed, Wagner’s music, and the Ring cycle in particular, seems to be one of those love-it-or-hate-it kind of things, sort of the Marmite of the music world (apologies to any non-British readers who quite possibly have no idea what I mean by that reference, though the Wikipedia link should help you).

Previously, I had been familiar with the Ride of the Valkyries, which is probably known to just about everybody in the Western world although most (myself included, until very recently) would likely not be able to tell you that it is the music which opens Act 3 of Die Walküre (the second opera in the cycle – the English translation of the name is “The Valkyries”, so it’s probably not too surprising that it’s in this one) or that the main theme from it crops up again quite a few other times within the cycle (in fact, as far as I could spot, it first appeared at the start of Act 2 of the same opera, though in a less developed form) and a couple of years ago (before I started to get properly into opera) I got a CD of orchestral music by Wagner which turned out to consist of preludes and other instrumental sections from his operas (apparently he composed very little else).

When I started to explore opera, I got a couple of compilation albums (one with a book attached). One of these included the Immolation Scene from the end of Götterdämerung (the final opera in the cycle; actually, this scene is the very last one of the whole cycle). I enjoyed this (and the instrumental stuff from my earlier CD) enough to want to listen to more.

Round about November 2014, I got a DVD of highlights of the Ring, purporting to tell the essential story through extracts from the operas, leaving out much of the padding (of which there is a lot in the Ring cycle – albeit largely set to wonderful music) and bringing the runtime down from about 15 hours to a much more manageable 100 minutes. These extracts were taken from a cycle staged by a Spanish group called La Fura dels Baus, with lots of exciting stage lighting and acrobatics to complement the music. I rather enjoyed watching this and it led to my decision, when considering operatic goals for 2015, to aim to see or hear the whole cycle.

I acquired my first (and so far only) complete Ring cycle on DVD last January, as I managed to find a well-acclaimed one (the Barenboim-Kupfer one from Bayreuth, c. 1992) going for a very reasonable price (about £15, which works out at £1/hour). Before plunging into this, though, I picked up a couple of CDs of highlights, one conducted by Herbert von Karajan and the other by George Solti (both, I gather, did multiple Ring cycle recordings and I don’t recall which ones I’ve got – basically whichever had highlight albums available nice and cheap).  I also had a look at a couple of Wagner’s other operas – Der Fliegende Holländer (aka the Flying Dutchman, suitable for my growing interest in sailing and things maritime last year, not to mention a fairly manageable 2 hours or so; I have watched a DVD version and listened to an audio one) and Tristan und Isolde (a 4+ hour mammoth, but at least there’s only one opera to sit through; this one I’ve only listened to so far, though at least one Wagner-specialist music critic describes this as “the ideal gramophone opera” in any case).

Though I was now feeling ready to tackle the full Ring cycle, I decided that I wanted to watch the operas, at least for the first time, together in one block rather than spread out across several weekends. The first opportunity to do so didn’t come until this week, when I was able to make use of a few days off work between Christmas and the new year to watch the operas on consecutive days, starting on Tuesday 29th December.  In fact, I ended up starting Götterdämerung a bit later than intended last night and, as it’s quite long and I was falling asleep (because I’d been out late at a New Year’s party the previous night, not because the music’s boring) I decided to postpone the final scene (the aforementioned Immolation Scene) until this morning so that I could better appreciate it.

Watching the Ring cycle was, in some ways, quite different from most other operas, but I found it a very enjoyable experience and one I’d like to repeat (though next time I probably won’t be so concerned about watching all the operas so close together).  If I get a chance to snap up any other versions of the Ring at sensible prices I may well do so (e.g. a more traditionally staged one, or perhaps the complete version of the Fura dels Baus one I mentioned earlier, which is even less traditional than the Kupfer-Barenboim one), though I’ll also be happy to enjoy this version again (and perhaps one or two audio recordings too). And I’d love to experience a live performance of the Ring cycle, in the unlikely event that I ever get a chance to do so.

I mentioned that the Ring is a bit like operatic Marmite.  In a sense I think this is quite an appropriate simile, not least because both are supposed to be things you either love or hate but in both cases I find myself somewhat towards the love end of the spectrum but not absolutely wild about it.  There will be times when Wagner is just the thing I want to listen to, and other times when I’m more in a mood for, say, Rossini, just like there are times when I want marmite on my toast and other times when I want marmalade (perhaps made with Seville oranges).


A tale of two barbers

If I were asked to name my favourite opera, I’d have a hard time picking one. However, there are some that would definitely make the shortlist, including Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia (the Barber of Seville).

Apparently I’m not alone in assessing this to be a fine opera as it is one of the most popularly performed operas in the world (Operabase lists it at #8 in its list of the top 50 operas, by number of performances worldwide between the 2009/10 and the 2013/14 season).

As it happens, this was one of the first operas I explored when I started to get interested in the genre about a year ago, and was the first one for which I watched or listened to several different performances.

I also did a certain amount of background reading about Il Barbiere and, amongst other things, discovered that Rossini was not the first person to set this story, based on the play Le Barbier de Séville by Pierre Beaumarchais, as an opera.  The play appeared in 1775, as the first part of a trilogy, the second being Le Mariage de Figaro (the Marriage of Figaro) which was very quickly set as an opera – Le nozze di Figaro – by Mozart (also one of the world’s, and my own, favourite operas) and the third being La Mère coupable (The Guilty Mother), which as far as I know has been turned into at least a couple of operas but none of them particularly successful.

Rossini’s version of Il Barbiere (which came out in 1816, about 40 years after the original play) caused quite a stir because there was already an opera of the same name, and based on the same play though using a different libretto, by Giovanni Paisiello. This had appeared in 1782 (i.e. within 7 years of the play) and was still immensely popular by the time Rossini got there.  Although Paisiello is now a somewhat obscure composer he was, by all accounts, quite a pop star in his own time and it was considered rather impertinent of Rossini to try encroaching on his territory (Paisiello died a few months after Rossini’s opera appeared; I couldn’t find any reference to his own reaction to Rossini’s work but his fans apparently rioted).  In fact, to start with, Rossini’s version struggled to gain a foothold while Paisiello’s remained tremendously popular.  Gradually, though, the popularity of Rossini’s opera increased while that of Paisiello’s waned.

Naturally enough, on hearing about Paisiello’s Barbiere, I was keen to hear it for myself.  I recently managed to track down a very reasonably priced audio recording of it and I enjoyed listening to it.  While it doesn’t ascend to the heights of operatic genius that Rossini achieves several times in his version, it is more than competently put together (at least from a musical perspective – I didn’t pay too much attention to the libretto so I can’t judge it dramatically) and pleasant to listen to.  I’d certainly be keen to see it performed (either live or on DVD) if I get a chance, though I probably wouldn’t want to make space for another audio recording (or more than one video one) in my library.

There is a certain ironic justice in Paisiello’s Barbiere having been eclipsed by Rossini’s later version because he himself had previously attempted (I’m not sure how deliberately, or with how much success) to do much the same to Giovanni Battista Pergolesi with La Serva Padrona.  This was a short comic opera that Pergolesi had written (c. 1733) as a pair of intermezzos to break up the acts of his long opera seria, Il prigionier superbo, and had become vastly popular (while Il prigionier fairly quickly faded into relative obscurity); it is seen by many as “the quintessential piece that bridges the gap from the Baroque to the Classical period” (to quote Wikipedia – it’s not clear whether that’s just within the scope of opera or of music more generally).  Paisiello wrote a version, using (I think) the same libretto as Pergolesi but a much more modern musical style, in about 1781 (i.e. shortly before his Barbiere).  I’ve listened to both Pergolesi’s and Paisiello’s versions of La Serva Padrona and enjoyed them both; stylistically there is a much greater gap between them than between Paisiello and Rossini (though even there the two are noticeably different – Paisiello’s Barbiere is perhaps unsurprisingly more reminiscent of his near-contemporary Mozart than of Rossini) so they are quite hard to compare.



All things being equal(ised)

For a long time my favourite media player has been Clementine. This is a powerful, well-featured and easy to use player that also has the benefit of being available across several different platforms, so I can use essentially the same player on both my Linux box at home and my Windows PC at work.

Amongst other features Clementine, like all good media players, has a set of equalisation controls.  One of my minor niggles with the program is that access to this is buried in the Tools menu and there doesn’t seem to be any way of configuring a button on the interface or a keyboard shortcut to bring the equaliser panel up.

(Of course, since Clementine is an open-source project I could in theory hack the source code but that would involve quite a steep learning curve and way too much work, so I think I’ll just stick with using the menu.  I may see if there’s a channel for getting feedback to the dev team, in case it’s a feature they’d like to consider for future releases).

Slight fiddliness of access notwithstanding, the equaliser is pretty straightforward to use.  In the version I have on my home computer (Clementine v1.0.1 for Linux) it is a 10 band graphic equaliser with sliders marked for frequencies between 60Hz and 16kHz (both of those probably pushing the limits of my PC speakers, not to mention my own hearing) as well as a pre-amp fader.  There is also a facility for saving,  loading and deleting presets, with a fair selection of pre-installed presets, mostly named for different musical genres (such as Classical, Rock or Ska) though there are a few others named for other things (Large Hall, Full Bass etc.).  While the sliders don’t have any marked scale on them, there is a nice feature whereby you feel a definite notch as you slide through the centre point (i.e. between cutting and boosting the given frequency).  It seems to be done by momentarily pausing the fader button when you drag it through that point but it gives an impressively tactile sensation for an on-screen slider.

Most of the time I tend to leave the equaliser alone but it is sometimes quite handy to be able to tweak it.  I had a clear demonstration of this yesterday.

Earlier in the week I’d been listening to an AC/DC CD (or at least its digital representation in my media library) and had actually got round to resetting the eq to the Rock preset, which has a classic smiley face slider configuration (i.e. bottom and top end pushed up and middle pushed down a bit), though skewed slightly to the left.  This gives a nice bit of sizzle to the sound which generally works well for rock music (hence the preset is quite aptly named).

Yesterday, though, I came to play a vintage opera recording that I’d only just picked up and never previously heard (Renata Tebaldi singing  Catalani’s La Wally, c. 1950, in case you’re interested).  The sound was disappointingly thin and crackly and I thought this was a problem with the recording (it was, after all, a cheap CD of a 64 year old recording).  Then I remembered about the EQ and, on checking, discovered that it was still set to Rock.  I changed it to Classical (flat up to 3kHz and then slightly attenuated for higher frequencies) and it was immediately transformed to a much richer, fuller sound without the annoying hiss.

Apart from being able to access the EQ panel more easily, I’d like to have a facility whereby you could save your EQ preferences for each track or album in your library, rather than having to reset the equaliser manually each time.  This would be especially useful when listening, as I often do, to a mixed playlist of music from different genres.

It is obviously good to be able to adjust the equalisation of your music files in order to be able to get the best possible sound for the combination of the recording, the musical genre, your playback equipment and your own personal tastes.  Perhaps less obviously, it’s also good sometimes to be able to to vary the EQ in order to bring out different aspects of the music.  Not only could this be a way to help you listen to a familiar piece with fresh ears but it can be very handy when you are trying to transcribe a piece of music as, with a judicious choice of EQ settings, you can emphasise the particular section of the sonic spectrum that you are trying to make out and reduce the amount of clutter from everything else that might be going on at the same time.  I’ve been trying to transcribe several pieces of music in the past few days and have just been discovering how useful the EQ controls (as well as other technological marvels such as the ability to slow a piece down without lowering the pitch) can be to aid in this task.


Last night, I was planning to watch a DVD of Donizetti’s opera Lucia di Lammermoor.

As it happens, I didn’t get round to doing so (I’m hoping to watch it tonight instead) but while I was still intending to watch it yesterday I happened to be searching through some little used cupboards and drawers in my house, looking for something or other.  I didn’t find what I was looking for, but instead I turned up a programme for Lucia di Lammermoor that I picked up when I went to see it at the Bielefeld Opera House during a visit to Germany about 12 years ago.

This was particularly surprising since, although I remember that trip to the opera quite well, I’d entirely forgotten that I had picked up a programme there, let alone kept it.

Of course, the programme is completely in German, which makes it a little difficult to read since my knowledge of that fine language was limited at the best of times and is now quite rusty to boot.  Still, I can remember enough to get the gist of what the programme says.

Interestingly, while it has a synopsis of the plot and quite a bit about the history of the opera, it doesn’t seem to contain anything about the specific performance, such as a list of the cast (as far as I’m aware it was essentially the regular Bielefeld Opera House artists, without any internationally famous guests or anything).  It may be that they had different casts for different performances (assuming it was being shown several times over the season) and there was an insert (either long-lost or never picked up with my copy of the programme) giving details, or that the information is actually there and I just missed it on my fairly brief perusal.

I haven’t yet tried to read the programme in any detail but it’s nice to find a physical link between my current mostly-home-media-based opera enjoyment and my previous visits to the Opera House.

On the benefits of going the other way

As you may have gathered from several recent posts, I have re-evaluated my opinion of recorded opera and come to enjoy it but still find live performances to be preferable.

On the whole, I’m sticking to my guns and I don’t think I’ll ever be convinced otherwise (with the caveat that I’d probably find a recorded version of an excellent performance preferable to a live version of a bad one).  However, lest you think that I think that opera on DVD is inferior to the live version in every respect, I should mention that I’ve recently discovered one way in which it is actually better.  Read on to discover why.

As well as opera, I’ve recently been exploring more of the works of George Frideric Handel (to use the spelling of his name that he adopted on settling to live in the UK, also used by the English version of Wikipedia – unsurprisingly, the German version uses the original, Geman spelling of his name: Georg Friedrich Händel).  Previously I’d only really been particularly familiar with a few of his better-known pieces such as the Water Music, Music for the Royal Fireworks and the Messiah.  I used to have a tape of one of his sets of concerti grossi (the opus 6 ones, I think) too, but that wore out years ago.

Opera was very much one of Handel’s bags and it is probably not surprising that my explorations of opera and of Handel’s music should soon converge.  Having listened to a number of isolated arias from several of his many operas, I recently managed to get hold of a DVD copy of Rodelinda (HWV 19), which is widely considered to be one of his best.

Baroque opera is something of a niche market compared to more mainstream, later opera and, consequently there are usually few, if any, available recordings of any given work and the ones that exist tend to be relatively expensive.  I was, therefore, pleased to get a fairly cheap (but very good condition) second-hand copy of an acclaimed performance of Rodelinda by the Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 1998, featuring Anna Caterina Antonacci (whom I recently watched (on DVD) in a completely different role as the star of a Covent Garden production of Carmen), Andreas Scholl (one of the world’s leading countertenors) and a bunch of other very competent performers none of whom I’d heard of.

Incidentally, I vaguely recall that I was once supposed to be going on a school trip to Glyndebourne but it got cancelled.  It could have been in 1993, the year the festival was cancelled while their theatre was being rebuilt, although I think it was earlier than that and the cancellation was presumably on the part of my school rather than the festival itself.

Returning to Rodelinda, this particular performance was interesting because, although they seemed to go for a fairly HIP (as in Historically Informed Performance, aka Authentic Performance etc.) version musically (complete with a theorbo and a couple of recorders in the orchestra pit), the staging was definitely post-baroque.  Visually it was particularly interesting because throughout most of the story the sets and costumes were all rather monochrome but at the very end they brought in some quite strong colour.  This was very much in keeping with the plot (and I won’t say any more for fear of giving the game away if you should have any desire to check out Rodelinda for yourself and want to preserve the surprise; the Wikipedia page has a good synopsis you can read otherwise) and presumably was done that way on purpose.

Handel was very much a composer in the opera seria (literally “serious opera”, in contrast to opera buffa or “comic opera”, although the terms can be slightly misleading) genre, which is characterised by the da capo aria.  This is an aria (or song, in non-opera-speak), usually for a solo performer, that starts with one section, moves on to a contrasting second section and then goes back and repeats the first section.  The end result can be quite long and somewhat repetitive, although at their best (such as in Rodelinda) they can contain some truly delicious music.  In fact baroque opera is built almost exclusively around alternating passages of recitative (basically, sung dialogue, which serves to move the plot forward – generally quite rapidly – and can involve several characters) alternating with solo da capo arias (giving individual performers a chance to shine while pausing to explore their character’s emotional response to the situation), with few if any ensemble or chorus pieces (in Rodelinda there is one exquisite duet at the end of the second act (of three) and a quartet at the very end of the how).

In a way this is a shame, as I particularly involve the vocal interplay in ensemble pieces (my single favourite bit of Carmen, for example is not one of the famous arias but a lovely quartet in the middle of the second act).  Still, the emphasis on solo items does help to give baroque opera a unique character (along, of course, with the distinctive melodic, harmonic and rhythmic structures, as well as orchestration, of baroque music, etc.) and I think it’s best to enjoy each operatic genre on its own terms rather than in comparison to different genres.

One of the arias towards the end of Rodelinda involves one of the main characters falling asleep in a garden.  As you might expect, the music at this point is very gentle and soporific.  It doesn’t take a genius to work out what’s likely to happen if you’re watching it in a comfortable chair in a darkened room late in the evening after about 3 hours of sitting down enjoying the show…

Which brings me at last to the benefit of opera on DVD as opposed to a live performance: When you fall asleep part-way through, you don’t have to miss large chunks of the action but can go back and revisit them at your leisure.  Plus, you don’t have to worry about winding up other members of the audience or disturbing the cast with your snoring. 🙂


Still the best way

As I mentioned recently, I’ve been re-evaluating my opinion of pre-recorded opera and finding that it is, after all, a good way to enjoy this art form.

Nonetheless, I remain firmly convinced that live performance is the best way to experience opera.  Therefore I was delighted to have an opportunity a couple of nights ago to see a live opera (my first in about 10 years).

This was a performance of L’Egisto (or just plain Egisto according to many sources, though it was written with the article (l’) on the promo material for this production) by Francesco Cavalli, a baroque composer I’d not previously come across.  The performance was by members of Bangor University’s music department (none of them – yet, at least – professional opera singers) and took place at Penrallt Baptist Church in Bangor (they had done several performances at the Ucheldre Centre in Holyhead earlier in the week).

I was very impressed both with the standard of the performance and with the work itself.  One interesting feature was that, while the arias were all sung in the original Italian, much of the recitative was delivered in English;  in the absence of surtitles or a printed bilingual libretto this helped to keep the audience informed as to what was going on.  While I’m generally in favour of hearing works in their original language, I found this mixture to work very well and it definitely enabled me to get a better handle on the action than my rather limited knowledge of Italian would have allowed.

The opera had a fairly big cast of singers (about a dozen, I think, and there was a fair amount of doubling going on – in fact, I think at least a couple of the singers may have had as many as 3 roles).  The “orchestra”, by contrast, consisted only of a harpsichord and 3 violins (or possibly 2 violins and a viola, although they all looked the same size to me and there were no obvious sub-violin-range notes that I could hear, except from the harpsichord).

As far as I can make out, there are currently no commercially available recordings (audio or video) of the whole of L’Egisto, although there seems to have been one released a number of years ago on LP that is long out of print and a couple of arias are included on a compilation CD of arias by Cavalli (from several of his many operas) released by Naxos (which is available to listen to on Spotify – I have listened to the Egisto arias and a handful of the other ones on there).  So this trip to the opera may have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear this work.

I would definitely like to hear more of Cavalli’s work (including Egisto again, if a recording ever becomes available or I get another chance to see it live) and I’ll also be keeping an eye out for any more opera performances (baroque or otherwise) taking place within easy reach of home.



Opera Revisited

Recently I’ve been re-evaluating my opinion of opera (the musical theatre art form, not the web browser).

For more-or-less my whole life I have enjoyed classical music (amongst many other genres) but, despite having been to live opera performances four times and enjoying each of them, I have never really got into opera… until now.

The first two operas I saw live were on a school trip to Russia in 1991.  As you might expect, these were both Russian operas.  The first, which I saw in the Kirov Theatre in Leningrad (NB both theatre and city reverted to their pre-revolutionary names – the Mariinsky Theatre and St. Petersburg, respectively – shortly after I was there), was Prokofiev’s  Любовь к трём апельсинам (The Love for Three Oranges).  The other, which I saw in the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow (both of which have retained their names), was Tchaikovsky’s Пиковая дама (The Queen of Spades).  My main memory of the Prokofiev piece is some fairly impressive (at least to me as a callow youth) pyrotechnics, while I remember not really having much idea what was going on in either story as I didn’t speak more than a few words of Russian at the time and I don’t recall their being any programmes, let alone surtitles, in English (fair enough, as we were in Russia and they were Russian operas being performed essentially for a home audience).  I think I quite enjoyed the music and the general experience nonetheless.

My next foray to the opera house was a few years later, c. 1994, when a few members of my school sixth form accompanied our art teacher (not that I was studying art at the time!) to see a performance of Janáček’s Jenůfa at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.  This time, although the opera itself was in Czech (its original language), we at least had a programme in English (and possibly surtitles too – I can’t remember), so I was able to get a much better idea of what was going on.

After this, there was a gap of nearly 10 years before my next, and so far final, night at the opera.  This took place on a research visit to Bielefeld in Germany (when I was a PhD student of mathematics) and was a trip to the town’s opera house to see a performance of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lamermoor (in Italian).  I think there were surtitles this time but they were, naturally enough, in German.  I can’t remember whether the programme contained a plot synopsis in English or if a combination of my own imperfect but not entirely non-existent knowledge of German and translations supplied by the people I’d gone with enabled me to get a reasonable idea of the plot.

[NB for the rest of this post, you can do your own Wikipedia searches if you so desire.]

Although I very much enjoyed these trips, especially the last couple, to see operas I never felt much desire to listen to the music or even to watch recordings of operas.  I always felt (as I still do) that opera is best experienced in it’s native habitat, i.e. live in an opera house.  However, I’ve re-examined and rejected my earlier conclusion that there’s no point in exploring or trying to enjoy opera in other forms.  There have been one or two exceptions – for example I’ve long had a soft spot for Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld (though, dare I say it, more in the Sadler’s Wells English version that I was originally acquainted with through a tape I bought quite possibly before I went to Russia than in the original French as Orphée aux Enfers; this despite my usual preference for tackling works of art in their original language as far as possible) and I’ve quite liked listening to the occasional Mozart aria.

I think the first thing that began to change my mindset was going to see a friend perform in a Gilbert and Sullivan show a few years back, which was swiftly followed by getting roped into appearing myself (as part of the chorus) in another G&S show the following year, an experience which, on the whole, I enjoyed immensely (and it is to my great regret that circumstances have thus far prevented me from taking part in any others).  As part of my research and preparation for the role, I procured a boxed-set of G&S operettas on DVD as well as an audio recording of Iolanthe (the show I was in) and highlights from some of their other works.  Gaining as much enjoyment as I did from these, I think, probably helped to at least subconsciously convince me that it may also be possible to enjoy “serious” opera on DVD or CD.

The next big step came last year when I was re-evaluating my thoughts on Mozart.  As I mentioned earlier, I quite liked listening to selected bits of some of his operas, as well as his music in general but I did tend to think of him as being somewhat overrated, at least compared to the true genius of greats such as Bach and Beethoven.  I’m not sure why, but I decided about a year ago to dig a bit deeper into Mozart’s work (initially, mostly his instrumental music) and I realised that, at his best, he was truly worthy to stand in company with the mighty Johann Sebastian and the immortal Ludwig van (to be fair, I must concede that Beethoven, at least, was also capable of churning out some pretty awful stuff, such as his Wellington’s Victory; I’m sure Bach too had his off-days).  As part of my exploration, I got hold of a handbook of Mozart’s music, and this indicated that he saw himself largely as an opera composer and that some of his best work was to be found in this genre.  A while later, I managed to pick up a budget priced CD compilation of his big 4 operas: Cosi Fan Tutte, Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Die Zauberflöte.  I enjoyed all these a great deal, both to listen to in large chunks (up to and including a whole opera at a time) and in smaller doses.

The next two or three logical steps, as I could see them, were to check out DVD versions of a few of Mozart’s operas, to check out a wider range of opera (on DVD, CD and YouTube video – in the absence of living within easy reach of an actual opera house) and to do some more reading on the subject.

I’ve been doing all of these things now for a couple of months and having great fun doing so.  As well as DVD versions of 3 of the 4 Mozart operas I mentioned (I don’t yet have a Zauberflöte), I’ve also been exploring Rossini’s Il barbiere di Seviglia (which is actually a sequel to Le Nozze di Figaro – at least in terms of the librettos being based on Beaumarchais’ sequence of Figaro plays – although the music was written 30 or so years later) and Verdi’s La Traviata, and I have several more lined up that I want to look into over the next few months.

I could carry on writing for quite a bit longer, but I have to go and check out another DVD version of La Traviata before it gets too late tonight.