Sunday, June 13, 2004

Opera hitting high notes

Cincinnati's summer season

By Janelle Gelfand / The Cincinnati Enquirer

So you think opera is just for the "mature" connoisseur who wears a tuxedo and knows Italian?

(Front box L-R) Jack Schreiber of Crescent Springs, KY., and Anna Cho 24, of Eden Park pose in Music Hall for a photo illustration along with (back box L-R) Sylvia Benjamin, Marcus Kuchle, Charmaine Moore, and Jean Crawford.
(Brandi Stafford/
The Cincinnati Enquirer)
With more than a quarter of the opera-going crowd under age 35 - according to a 2002 National Endowment for the Arts study - a night out at Carmen is the place to be seen, no matter what your age.

To help you prepare for the Cincinnati Summer Opera Festival, opening Thursday with Donizetti's The Daughter of the Regiment, we offer some tips:

You don't have to wear a gown or tuxedo to attend. You don't have to know a foreign language (there are English surtitles), though opera is usually sung in Italian, French or German. It's not about sopranos in horned helmets, belting at the top of their lungs.

You don't have to spend big bucks to sit in a box seat to enjoy it. The cheap seats start at $25.

Opera is the fastest growing of all the performing arts, with more than 20 million children and adults attending each year, says Washington-based opera support organization Opera America. Nearly twice that number, 37.6 million, experience opera through radio, video, TV, CDs or online.

OK, so you don't know a basso from a baseball or Don Giovanni from Donald Trump. If you like a good story, you'll like opera. We're here to help you figure it out.

Things you need to know before you go

Arrive early: Music Hall (3,400 seats) is usually packed for the opera. When the curtain goes up, you won't be seated until the first pause - which could mean an hour-long wait.

What to wear: Anything goes. You'll see tuxes and gowns, especially on opening night. But most men wear suits or go business casual; women wear summer dresses or pants. Wraps are big: it can be cool in Music Hall.

When to clap: Opera is like jazz. When a musician wows with a sensational solo, clap. Likewise, when an opera singer finishes a big aria, it's OK to clap, stand yell "bravo" (for men), "brava" (for ladies) or "bravi" (for everybody).

Opera no-nos: Cell phones or pagers left on; noisy candy wrappers; camera flashes.

How long is it? The operas range from short one-acts - The Emperor of Atlantis is 55 minutes - to Don Giovanni and Carmen, each lasting about 21/2 hours.

Intermission: There is one 25-minute intermission.

Food at Music Hall: Plan to eat dinner before or after the opera. You can get soft drinks, sparkling wine, Graeter's ice cream and Divine's Chocolates at concession stands. Espresso and sandwiches are sold in the north lobby bar.

Prelude dinners: Four courses at 6 p.m. in Corbett Tower, presented by the Opera Guild ($29; reservations 241-2742).

Key Terms

Bel canto: Beautiful singing, marked by beauty of tone and legato (smooth) phrasing.

Buffo: The comic role, often given to a bass.

Cadenza: A flourish where a singer sings fast, high or difficult passages to show what she or he can do.

Coloratura: Elaborate ornamentation of a melody, such as trills and runs. A coloratura soprano is one whose voice is high, light and agile.

Dynamics: Volume in music, such as piano (soft), forte (loud) and crescendo (getting louder).

Libretto: Italian for "little book," it's the written text.

Opera-comique: French opera with lighthearted subject matter. Usually (but not always) includes spoken dialogue.

Overture: The instrumental introduction to the opera. It previews the opera's musical themes and sets the mood.

Recitative: Speech-singing in which the singer, who needs to get through a lot of text quickly, semi-chants the words.

Surtitles: The English translation projected across the top of the stage.

Trouser role: A male role played by a female.

Verismo: Realism depicting the violent or seamy side of life, such as murder or suicide.

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