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New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.

You, too, can become an opera fan! Lots of people immediately write off opera, saying that they don't understand it, or that opera's a highfalutin' art form that feels irrelevant. We at the New Vic are rethinking these stereotypes and offer invigorating re-interpretations of classics in our season—Isango Ensemble's adaptation of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream is a shining example of just that! But there are also a number of ways to make traditional opera feel fun, exciting and accessible.

If you and your family will be attending your first opera at the New Vic this month, but are feeling trepidatious about your ten-year-old's reaction to Titania and Oberon, read our Ten Commandments for Watching Opera below. A little preparation will help you to get the most out of your experience!


I. Thou might already be a fan

Opera pops up everywhere—from Skittles commercials to internet memes, so there's really no reason to feel intimidated!

Mozart portrait meme: If you ever feel back about procrastinating, just remember that Mozart wrote the overture to Don Giovanni the morning it premiered.


II. Thou shalt honor the music

The great part about opera is that the music says it all! Even if the set design, costuming or lighting is gorgeous, opera is first and foremost about the music, and painstakingly composed works communicate emotions and story through music alone (the rest is just extra!). As The New York Times put it, "in opera, music is the driving force; in musical theater, words come first."


III. Thou shalt not worry about hearing every word

Many operas are in foreign languages, but even those sung in your native tongue can be tough to understand. Opera singers do their best when it comes to diction, but part of opera singing technique requires singers to modify spoken pronunciation in order to sound their best (especially on the high notes). Let the music tell the story if you're feeling lost.


IV. Thou shalt not listen to stereotypes

"It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings." Ugh... When you become a fan, you'll realize that opera is way more than some stereotypes make it out to be. The prima donna is not necessarily temperamental—she's just the chief female singer—and her fellow divas may well be humbled by their fame!


V. Thou shalt get to know the classics

As an opera beginner, your best plan for getting to know the art form is to start with the classics. Find a playlist below that we curated, and have a listen. You'll hear favorite songs, many of which we'll bet you've heard before!

 

VI. Thou shalt have an opinion

Sometimes there's the misconception that just because something is lauded as a "classic," you have to like it. Listen to or go see a few operas and decide what you like—a crisp Mozart tune is very different from a undulating Puccini score.


VII. Thou shalt know the singers

It's hard to go wrong when seeing any trained, professional opera singer perform live. But hardcore opera buffs will go to shows just to hear certain singers. Here are a few names to get you started: Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Maria Callas, Renee Fleming, Anna Netrebko.


VIII. Thou shalt know the vocabulary

Here's a list of terms that will help you on your first trip to the opera (click to enlarge).


IX. Thou shalt know the composers

Most of the famous composers that you can name probably wrote an opera, but there were a few that really perfected the medium. While Beethoven wrote one opera, symphonies were more his specialty. Who are considered the best opera composers, then? Mozart, Wagner, Verdi, Rossini, and Puccini are recognized as a few of the greats.


X. Thou shalt avoid snobbery

When you've become an opera fan, make sure you spread the love, and help people understand that opera isn't high-brow and stuffy! There's nothing wrong with getting your Wagner knowledge from the Looney Tunes episode when Elmer Fudd sings "kill the wabbit" to the tune of "Die Walkure."
 

Editor's Note: This post was originally written by Hillary Reeves and first appeared on our blog during our 2014-15 Season, in advance of Isango Ensemble's The Magic Flute.
 
Posted by Zack Ramadan
Tags: 2015-16, opera
October 20, 2015

Monster Myths of the World


Written by Lindsay Amer, Fall 2015 Communications Apprentice

Forests and mountains and oceans, oh my! Our planet can be a scary place sometimes, and ever since humankind began telling stories, we have invented terrifying mythological monsters that go "boo!" in the night. In THE GRUFFALO, the Mouse invents her own monster to protect herself from the predators that live in the deep dark wood. Made-up creatures can protect us from other scary things, represent something large and unknown in nature or stand in for inexplicable happenings. 

From Sasquatch (better known as Bigfoot), who stomps through the vast and murky forests of the Pacific Northwest, to the dreaded Kraken—fabled to swallow tall ships whole—every culture has its own mythical monsters. We know why the Mouse invented the Gruffalo. Let's see if we can shed some light on the possible origins of these rough beasts...

Loch Ness Monster
Loch Ness Monster hoaxed photograph
The four-finned, long-necked Nessie hails from the great Loch Ness in the highlands of Scotland. Vikings in the 6th century were the earliest to record their fear of her, when an attack on a man crossing the River Ness was blamed on a colossal reptile allegedly sighted in the loch. Was he attacked? Did he drown? Loch Ness is enormous. Surrounded by highland hills, it's the second largest and deepest lake in all of Scotland, and the river that feeds it is wide and equally dangerous. The threat of meeting a giant water monster would be enough to keep me from wandering out alone onto the dark, murky water. Spooky!

Yeti

Yeti illustration by Phillipe SemeriaKnown to the Nepalese and Tibetans as the Yeti, tales of the Abominable Snowman living in the Himalayan mountains have warned residents of the dangers of nearby avalanches and the fate awaiting stranded Everest-climbing adventurers. The white-all-over bear-like creature is said to preside over its mountainous home and features in ancient lore of the Himalayan people. It is said to make a whooshing noise wherever it goes, carrying huge gusts of wind along with it. I wouldn't want to get caught in that blizzard; and because of the story of the fearsome Yeti, I won't!

Chupacabras

Chupacabras illustration by Jeff CarterThese terrifying, hairless wolf-like creatures with spikes up their spines are said to hail from Puerto Rico, Mexico and South America. Their Spanish name literally translates to "goat-sucker," coming from their well-known pastime of attacking and sucking the blood of meandering livestock. While sightings of Chupacabras are probably just people seeing funny looking coyotes, how else am I supposed to explain my missing goats at the market the next day? Best to keep a watchful eye on my herd.

Impundulu

Impundulu illustration by artbybluedaisyThere are hundreds of different folkloric histories throughout the continent of Africa with thousands of equally astounding and fantastical monsters. Also known as the Lightning Bird, this lesser known mythical monster comes from the tales of Pondu, Zulu and Xhosa traditions in South Africa. The Impundulu is a human-sized bird which is said to have the magical ability to strike lightning with its claws and suck the blood of its prey. If I lived in the fire-prone drylands of southern Africa, I'd be worried about giant lightning birds, too, blood-sucking or not!

Gargoyles

Notre Dame Gargoyle closeup by Jean-Luc OurlinUgly stone gargoyles famously protrude from the arches and vaults of Paris's beloved architectural landmark, Notre Dame. Practically speaking, gargoyles are actually used to protect the building's stonework from rainwater by diverting it through their spout-like mouths. But during medieval times, the faithful believed that plastering these grotesque figures all over churches would protect the sacred and beautifully ornamented insides from any evil demons that might try to break in and wreck the place.

Dragons

Dragon illustration by David RevoyTales of dragons come from all over the world. The gargantuan fire-breathing reptiles show up in folklore from China, Japan, Vietnam, India, Ancient Greece and in the earliest of all literature, The Epic of Gilgamesh from Mesopotamia. Many of these cultures depict the otherworldly creatures as powerful, even imperial symbols, representing the great forces of nature. Dragons are more symbolic than forewarning: paragons of animal might with command over earth, fire, air and water. They prove excellent opponents for mythological heroes looking to slay magnificent beasts to demonstrate their valor, and they satisfy our human desire for a mighty creature of legend superlative to any real-world animal. I can't think of a more magnificent monster!
 
   What makes you quake in your boots? Take to Twitter, and tell us @newvictory what creature you'd rather not meet in the deep dark wood. Then, join us for Tall Stories' musical adaptation of THE GRUFFALO, the award-winning picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. See you there!
 
 
Lindsay Amer    Lindsay Amer is a Communications Apprentice at The New 42nd Street, where she gets to contribute to social media, PR and marketing for a theater for kids and families! She almost has her MA in Theater and Performance Studies from Queen Mary University of London, and she holds a BS in Theater from Northwestern University. She is currently learning how to play the song from the Pixar short about volcanoes falling in love—Lava—on her ukulele.
Posted by Zack Ramadan
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