Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Dido's Lament

True story: When I was eleven, I went to a practice of the local community orchestra. Since I was interested in learning the flute at that time (a noble ambition that was soon forgotten) I sat with the flautists as they rehearsed the overture to The Barber of Seville, a piece familiar to me from watching Elmer Fudd get his head shaved by the Rabbit of Seville. Afterwards, the fellow next to me asked, "Have you ever heard that before?" Not wanting to admit that I derived all my culture from cartoons, I hedged and allowed as how I thought I might have, somewhere. He said, "I've only heard it in Bugs Bunny."

Another true story: when I was 18, my best friend and I decided to get a subscription to the Cincinnati Opera's summer series. We sat dutifully through La Boheme and Don Giovanni, and were gearing up for the third opera, Faust. That summer we were working at a mentally dulling, low-paid job that kept us on our feet all day, so on the Friday night of the performance we were so worn out that the prospect of wading through one more opera was more than we could bear. I burn with shame to confess that we blew off Faust in favor of vegging through Muppets from Space. Ah, the follies of youth...

To remedy our cultural defects, Darwin and I have been listening to a series of lectures entitled "How to Listen to and Understand Great Music", from the Teaching Company. We're enjoying these immensely, due in part to the fact that the professor could make a lump of coal accessible to the masses. The lectures on opera, in particular, have been favorites with the budding soprano in the infant seat who loves to shriek along with the high notes. Darwin and I have never felt entirely comfortable with our lack of opera appreciation -- isn't every intellectually pretentious couple supposed to enjoy opera? Why don't we enjoy it? What are we missing?

Perhaps listening to operas in English is a good way to foster appreciation for the art form. One of the lectures featured an aria from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas: Dido's Lament. I thought it was some of the loveliest music I'd ever heard, full of aching sadness, featuring a pure soprano with hints of Irish intonation. I have a great desire to hear the rest of the opera, and perhaps see it one day, just to hear this song again.

Here's a clip of Jessye Norman singing Dido's Lament.


bill said...

It is my firm belief that, objectively, the Muppets are high art.
If Louie the King Prawn rasping through "You've got to know when to hold 'em" isn't the form of enjoyment, I don't want to be happy.
I can enjoy opera, but I've never enjoyed operatic singing. Something about excessive tremolo really turns me off to it. Maybe I just haven't listened to enough experts. This Norman gal sounds really good either way.

mrsdarwin said...

I remember seeing Jessye Norman singing at the opening ceremonies of the Atlanta Olympics. She certainly has an impressive voice, but the soprano from the lecture sounded more like this -- clearer and lighter.

Muppets from Space wasn't the creme de la creme of the Muppets oeuvre by any stretch, but Pepe the Prawn (not Louie, BTW) was the highlight of the piece.

Rick Lugari said...

First, the Bugs Bunny/Looney Toons were a wonderful thing because they exposed a couple generations of kids to high culture things like the Barber of Seville, to physics (i.e. Wile E. Coyote contraptions), chemistry (i.e. alum makes your mouth pucker), social studies and history (Hillbilly Hare with the Hatfields and McCoys, the war effort [WWII], etc.). The list is endless....

But as high culture goes, it seems overrated to me. If you have to learn to enjoy something, there's either a problem with you or the object in question. Sometimes you just have to say, this stuff just isn't for me and stick to what you know or suspect you will enjoy. Plus, you can have the enjoyment of being a snob over a lower culture things. Like, I'm low culture...I like Rock n Roll, but only the best of it. I can get my fix for excellent writing, musicianship, poetic tragedy and still sincerely appreciate the lowness of my cultural status. :)

MomLady said...

I've never been embarassed to admit that my first (and for a long time only) exposure to classical music was through Bugs Bunny cartoons. (My parents only had a few records in their collections: Victory at Sea, Oklahoma, South Pacific, Mitch Miller, and a couple collections of Christmas carols.)

When I found out that there was more of the music than was used in the cartoons, I thought it was really cool.

Tim said...

If you plan on reselling the lectures once you are done with them please consider this my shout of "First Dibs"!

My appreciation of opera was so slow and gradual that one day I realized I really liked it and I didn't know how I got to that point. I think some of it had to do with my son joining the Archdiocesan Boy Choir and hearing all the great choral music of the church. Another factor was buying Pavarotti's Opera Made Easy-My Favourite Opera For Children for the kids and listening to it many times over.

There are some arias that I still don't "get" but there are many that either bring tears to my eyes or chills to my spine. Something I've never gotten with rock and roll.

mrsdarwin said...


Ah, we ourselves are only borrowing them.... But they are excellent and surprising entertaining as well as being quite informative. The professor is a riot (as my grandmother would say).

I really think that one comes to a deeper appreciation for classical music through singing or playing it. I still remember the alto part from "And the Glory of the Lord" from the Messiah, and it was eleven or twelve years ago that my church choir performed it. Whenever I hear any music that I've played on the piano or violin I automatically listen more intently.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Cheap, child-friendly opera is on your very doorstep! Go to
and scroll down to "Opera by Night."

We began taking Offspring #1 when she was very young, on the condition that she could demonstrate an ability to stay *absolutely* quiet, and reasonably still, during the hour-and-a-half noon Mass. She loved it right away, and we've been regulars ever since. At $3 per child and $5 per adult, you can't afford not to go!

mrsdarwin said...

This is the kind of information that makes you such an invaluable resource...

I see they're doing Barber of Seville in April. Perhaps it's time to bring my musical saga full-swing. Wanna go together? Of course, Noogs will be not-yet-five, so I wonder if she's still a bit young for sitting still that long -- she's getting better in church, but we still have our weeks.

MomLady said...

BTW, you can see "What's Opera, Doc?" here:

The horse alone is worth the price of admission!

DMinor said...

Does liking "Tommy" (Pete Townsend) or "Jesus Christ, Superstar" (Andrew Lloyd Weber) count? Seriously, though, I think playing or singing classical music builds an appreciation of it. It may not, however, build an affinity. People have their likes and dislikes, and can even have favorites and least-favorites within a given genre.

CMinor said...

Darn. It was inevitable after the Blogger changeover that I'd do something like that.

Darwin or MrsD, would you mind awfully deleting that previous?
Thank you.

Now then:
I loved "Rabbit of Seville" and "What's Opera, Doc!"

I spent my teens in a university town and was thus able to see (really cheaply!) English-language productuions of Barber and Gianni Schicchi(sp?)Both are hilarious and should go over well with teens and tweens if you get the chance. Gilbert and Sullivan productions are also a good choice, and if you know a little about Victorian culture and politics can be a hoot. (Mrs D. already knows of my enthusiasm for Bergman's Magic Flute production, but as that's in Swedish it helps to be a reader.) Nowadays there's video, of course, so performances are much more accessible even if you don't have an institute handy.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Mrs. Darwin,

I just might. My main difficulty is that a few years ago, neither Eudoxus nor I could take Offspring #1 on rehearsal night, so we convinced my dear MIL to take her. She was quite certain that she hated opera but gamely agreed. But once she discovered what opera is like with supertitles and good seats, she was hooked and has been making it a grandmother-granddaughter event ever since. But I've been missing my opera outings, and this will be the last one before Offspring #3 appears, so I'm inclined to go.

At any rate if you go you will find plenty of homeschoolers in the audience. (You can tell them from the school groups because they're *quiet* during the performance.)

Hot tip: Park across the street in the stadium lot. For some reason no one else does, even though it's allowed at that hour of the evening.

mrsdarwin said...

Offspring #3! No wonder you've been so quiet lately. Many many congratulations. Should you want for a meal or any amenity, please let us know.

How old was #1 when she went for the first time? I wonder if Noogs would be old enough to pay attention. Of course, there are plenty of homeschoolers around here -- perhaps I could borrow someone else's child for the evening...

mrsdarwin said...

D --

I gotta confess a liking for Judas's song in Jesus Christ Superstar. The rest of JCS I could take or leave, but that character always resonated with me a bit. Most likely because that personality type isn't that far off from mine. If everyone would just listen to me for a minute, everything would work out so much better. Fortunately, no one's offered me thirty pieces of silver lately for my advice.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Did someone mention Gilbert & Sullivan...?

We saw HMS Pinafore last year. Wonderful! Who needs Dallas or Houston?

Thank you! Yes, I'm never able to look at a monitor for long during the first trimester without getting queasy, but feeling fine now. Except for wanting to sleep 12 hours a night. Being pregnant when pushing 40 is not what being pregnant in my 20's was.

O#1 was five if I recall, but preternaturally attentive. She would observe a strict, marvelling silence throughout, then keel over reliably at the beginning of Act 3 and sleep in my lap to the end.