Slow Listening Saturdays: Big big love

I was first drawn to opera because it wasn’t particularly realistic. In the same way that great writers could pull me into another world with their craft, great music could pull me into another emotional space. With opera and other vocal music , that experience has always been the most intense for me. Voices in full, athletic cry, but schooled and controlled in pitch and phrasing, carrying words out over an orchestra that supplies more weight and beauty in color and sound – this is the music that can slay me, lay me open, ambush me with joy or sorrow or emotions I can’t name.

Tonight, I’m feeling the love: gratitude for a wonderful season drawing to a close, and for a long-awaited vacation beginning tomorrow. It draws my thoughts to two great operatic love duets out of the many wonderful choices. First, enjoy Mirella Freni and Placido Domingo from 1983 in the first act of Verdi’s Otello. It’s music of reunion and rediscovery, and of extasy. And incredible cello solos. And some epic singing.

Second, here’s Kiri te Kanawa and Wolfgang Brendel in a breathtaking few minutes from Strauss’ Arabella. It sounds simple compared to the dramatic Verdi, less variety, almost like a folk song. But check out the long phrases, the discipline of the voices staying quiet and never breaking the moment. Then check out what the orchestra has to say.

Ahhh. That’s good stuff. Remember the rules, now: share with someone who hasn’t heard this beautiful music. Share, too, your own reactions to it. Spread the love!

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