Instructional Media Center

April Feature • Opera

Part One - An opera primer.
Haven’t seen much opera?  Try this informal tour through various styles and eras.

Die Zauberflöte
/ Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - ML50.M939 Z32 2003 DVD 
If you’re new to opera, The Magic Flute is a great place to start.  Mozart’s famous opera is a love story but also an allegory about self-actualization, with references to Freemasonry.  This 2003 Covent Garden production, conducted by Sir Colin Davis, is a dark and intense interpretation. Diana Damrau tackles some fiendishly difficult arias as the Queen of the Night.

Fidelio / Beethoven - M1500.B44 F5 2003 DVD 
It took Beethoven ten years to complete his only opera, Fidelio.  Fidelio is set in France and based on actual events that occurred during the French Revolution.  The opera’s heroine, Leonore, disguises herself as a man in order to free her husband, Florestan, who is being held in jail as a political prisoner.

Giulio Cesare / George Frideric Handel - M1500.H36 G58 2006 DVD                              
Although Handel is often thought of today as a composer of oratorios and orchestral works, his operas were a significant aspect of his compositional output.  Giulio Cesare is one of Handel’s longest and most elaborate operas.  The plot is based on historical events that took place between 18 and 17 B.C.; Cesare follows his enemies to Egypt, where he meets Cleopatra.

Peter Grimes / Benjamin Britten - M1500.B8608 P4 1994 DVD                            
British composer Benjamin Britten was a prolific composer of operas, and Peter Grimes was an immediate popular and critical success following its premiere in 1945.  The apprentice of fisherman Peter Grimes dies during a sea voyage; the opera opens with an investigation into his death.  Grimes is found not guilty, but the community continues to ostracize and torment him.

Der Ring des Nibelungen / Richard Wagner - M1500.W14 R55 2001 DVD
Opera movie marathon!  Find a comfy seat and have plenty of provisions on hand.  Wagner spent twenty-eight years composing his Ring Cycle and preparing it for performance at the 1876 Bayreuth Festival, but you can watch it in a little over twelve hours.  The four operas that make up the Ring Cycle are based in Norse mythology; Wagner intended the premiere performance of the cycle to reflect the ancient Greek festival of Dionysus at Athens.

Nixon in China / John Adams - PN1995.9.O7 N59 2000z DVD                        
A twentieth-century opera from one of America’s most frequently performed living composers.  Adams’s first opera, Nixon in China is based on President Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to Chinese Chairman Mao-Tse-Tung.


Part Two - Find it at Reed, then see it live!

Opera lovers in Portland are fortunate that we can attend opera from a variety of productions throughout the city. This spring there are several operas coming up that will offer some wonderful entertainment.

The Merry Widow / Franz Lehar - M1500 .L45 M47 2000z DVD (in English—starring Joan Sutherland) CD- L52/1 (in German with Bryn Terfel and Barbara Bonney). The first is not exactly an opera.  It’s an operetta with some charming music and dance. It’s The Merry Widow by Franz Lehar, first performed in 1905 in Vienna as Die Lustige Witwe. You may not think you are familiar with the music, but you have probably heard the lovely waltz theme that winds through the performance. The story is ridiculous (in line with most odd opera stories), but it’s light and fun, and the music is truly charming.  It’s being presented in English by Portland State University’s award-winning opera students, directed by a world-renowned stage director, Tito Capobianco. It’s truly amazing that Maestro Capobianco, who has worked with many of the greatest opera singers throughout the last 50 years, comes to Portland each year to help the students put on a very professional performance. You can read more about this incredibly talented director and teacher here.  And you can get more info about tickets here.  If you’d like to see Tito in action, teaching a master class on April 5th, check it out here. It’s free and open to the public.

Armida / Rossini - M1500.R83 A76 2008  
The second opera coming up is the live Metropolitan Opera’s high definition transmission of Rossini’s Armida. Each year the Met lets viewers around the world
watch a live performance of around 10 operas, and Armida will be the last one of this season, transmitted to movie theaters on Saturday May 1st.  It’s an amazing experience to sit in the Lloyd Center in Portland and watch the LIVE opera that’s being performed in New York. This production will star Renee Fleming, one basso, and SIX TENORS. It’s full of difficult coloratura passages that Rossini is known for. To learn more about the opera and purchase tickets, see this

Il Barbiere di Siviglia / Rossini - M1500.R83 B37 1998b (with Beverly Sills), M1500.R83 B37 1992 (with Marilyn Horne), M1500.R67 B3 1999 DVD
Also in May, Portland Opera will be performing its last opera of the season, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, AKA Il Barbiere di Siviglia.  It will be in Italian, with the English translation projected above the stage. This is certainly Rossini’s best-loved opera, a comedy extraordinaire filled with glorious and fun music. A lot of the music is familiar to most audiences (e.g. “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro.”) Here is the link to the Oxford Music Online article.  For more information about tickets, check out the Portland Opera website here.