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.