Coming off of round after round of audio tours with too much information, miniature sized font descriptions that don’t do a piece of art justice, and gorgeous sights like La Sagrada Familia, my brain and my little heart were tired by the time Friday hit. I had maxed out my capacity to take in that specific type of beauty. I was reading descriptions but not taking in new information. I was staring at masterpieces and having to work hard to take in what was in front of me. I had to replay audio guides to make sure I heard the information as my mind seemed to wander 20 seconds in.
I needed a palate cleanser. I needed a break from the same type of touristing. Last night was that break for me in the form of a visit to Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu to see Verdi’s Attila. I studied Verdi’s Operas in a freshmen seminar class my very first semester in college. These seminar classes were intimate (20 – 30 students) taught by an esteemed professor on a topic you normally couldn’t explore in college. When I saw Verdi’s Operas listed as a class, I put it as my number one choice.
I remember the first day of class where each student went around the room comically announcing their name, why they joined the class, and their major – “music duh”. The panic started to build as it dawned on me that maybe I wasn’t supposed to have been added to this class. I have very limited musical talent but I love operas and have a deep appreciation for the arts. By the time the professor got to me, I answered the prompt as fast as I could hoping that by doing so the “psychology major” part of my answer would strike folks as something they must have just misheard. The professor very much heard me and proceeded to spend a solid portion of the first day making it very clear what kind of a music background would be helpful for this class. It was then I learned all of the grading would be based on five papers of 7 to 10 pages each throughout the semester. My head spun and my heart sank.
As I walked out of the class on the first day absolutely overwhelmed, the professor stopped me, “Let’s talk about if you are going to fit into this class.” I’m not sure why his approach was so disapproving. Underneath it all, I think he thought I joined the class for an easy grade. Why on earth would anyone join an opera class who isn’t a music major? I asked a few clarifying questions around whether a working knowledge of music was necessary. He tried his best to discourage me and I put on the bravest face I could. I’m not sure what kept me from dropping out of the class – perhaps it’s that I didn’t know it was an option 😉 I like to think it had more to do with my stubborn self finding it borderline insulting that someone would question something I truly felt passionate about.
I rocked that opera class thanks to years of excellent English teachers in highschool and a lot of hard work. I’ll admit I fell asleep too often in class (it was 1.5 hours each time and involved a lot of opera watching). I made up for it by re-watching the operas in my free time. When he lectured, I nearly wrote down every word. Every assigned reading, I took notes on and summarized meticulously whereas most students never got around to reading them at all. Halfway through the semester, the same music students who snickered at me were coming to me for help after they saw the grades I got on my papers. I received an A+ in Verdi’s Operas.
Last night, while taking in the glorious expression of emotions that is opera, I realized why I love them so much – they are intense. Nothing is casual in an opera. When someone is heartbroken, they nearly burst singing about it or fall to the ground barely able to mutter a sound. Operas are the extreme acted out on stage no matter the emotion making them absolutely irresistible to me.
If you had told me that first day of my freshmen year that 7 years from then I would be sitting in Barcelona seeing one of the very operas I studied, I would have never have believed you.
In just a few weeks, I’ll be seeing another of Verdi’s operas in Zurich – Luisa Miller. In the meantime, a recent clip I found from another opera by Verdi adapted for modern times (as he wanted):
Related rant: after hearing opera music, speaking plainly feels like an insult to the senses. As the music stopped Friday night, a part of me wanted to become mute just in case by doing so I could preserve a bit longer the beauty of what I had just heard.