Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 11, 2023

The Charles delivers opera to masses in new endeavor

By NATALIE BERKMAN | February 20, 2008

Throughout the years, opera has fallen out of favor amongst the younger generation. Not only are they in different language (Italian, French, German, etc.), but there are no spoken words, the plots are intricate and often confusing, and tickets are way too expensive for the student budget. To actually understand an opera requires an immense effort. With an inundation of movies and musicals with English dialogue based on original operas, it seems that real deal is out of date. While the language barrier appears to be an unreasonable obstacle and the stuffiness of the opera culture might be out of date, how can one honestly deny the extraordinary talent of the music, the libretto and those infamous opera singers? In an effort to bring back the glory of the opera, the Charles Theatre began to broadcast operas live, beginning with Verdi's "blockbuster opera Aida" in December.

"I support [the operas]," said Mike Anderson, manager of the Charles Theatre. "I think it's a great idea. The audience is pretty big - we're selling out almost every show."

While there are opera houses all over the world, including in Baltimore, none are considered as beautiful and famous as La Scala in Milan, Italy, often considered the greatest in the world. After a fire destroyed the original building, La Scala was reconstructed and rechristened in 1778 and has been performing classic works ever since. La Scala tickets are expensive (not including the price of getting to Italy, of course), but, through the efforts of the Charles Theatre, it's possible to see an actual La Scala production for just $21.

The operas are live performances recorded at La Scala, Teatro del Maggio Musicale and Teatro La Fenice, and brought to you in digital high definition and surround sound by Emerging Cinemas. They're "a combination" of a movie and an opera, Anderson said.

"It's a live performance that's filmed, but it's not just one camera. They zoom in on characters during important parts and there are also a lot of orchestra shots. They make an effort to make the orchestra a part of the performance."

Going to see an opera at the Charles won't be exactly the same as going to Italy, but it has its perks. For example, the operas are subtitled to facilitate understanding.

"A lot of people appreciate the subtitled version ... you get to actually understand what's going on," Anderson said. With subtitles, these operas become less foreign. It's possible to understand the plot and what the characters are saying. The audience can still enjoy and appreciate the music, but hopefully the subtitles will span the language gap.

So far, the La Scala series has appealed mostly to crowds of middle-aged people and senior citizens, but Anderson believes that if the right opera comes around, these broadcasts could appeal to younger crowds. Perhaps these broadcasts will reunite younger crowds with opera - they are certainly within a student's price range. The cheapest tickets for the Baltimore Opera Company are $46, and they are all up in the balconies. Tickets to the La Scala broadcasts at the Charles are only $21, and everyone has a front row seat.

Perhaps it is the price of opera tickets that have made this cultural institution so foreign to those in college - operas used to be common entertainment much like movies are today. It seems fitting, then, that operas are coming to the big screen and returning to the public eye, and $21 seems a small price to pay to see an opera at the greatest opera house in the world. It truly is a little piece of history and culture that is still as equally powerful and moving as it once was. Go see an opera because who knows? You may like it.

Series Schedule:

La Scala's La Traviata, by Giuseppe Verdi, directed by Liliana Cavani, conductor: Lorin Maazel. Feb. 20 and 24.

La Scala's Maria Stuarda, by Gaetano Donizetti; directed, designed and costumed by Pier Luigi Pizzi; conductor: Antonino Fogliani. March 26 and 30.

Teatro del Maggio's Musicale, Florence La Forza del Destino, by Giuseppe Verdi, directed by Nicolas Joel, conductor: Zubin Mehta. April 9 and 13.

La Scala's Il Trittico, by Giacomo Puccini, directed by Luca Ronconi, conductor: Riccardo Chailly. May 7 and 11.

Teatro La Fenice's La Rondine, directed by Graham Vick, conductor: Carlo Rizzi. June 25 and 29.

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