Posts tagged ‘Italian’

February 4, 2013

A visit to Opera North

Last week, I was given the opportunity to visit the opera by The Culture Vulture and Opera North. I hadn’t really thought of opera as being for people like me so I hesitated at first, but it seemed a good opportunity to challenge my assumptions and so, encouraged by my friend and ‘culture date’ for the evening, Jo, I accepted the ticket.

Otello, based on the Shakespeare play, was performed by Opera North at The Grand Theatre in Leeds. There’s plenty of room on the internet for reviews about the performance but, for us, the opera trip was a catalyst for debate about what assumptions we had about opera, what the barriers to engaging with it as an art form were, and why people might think it’s not for them.

Me: I’ve always thought opera was for posh people, who dressed in fancy clothes so they could see other posh people, who were also dressed in fancy clothes, singing in another language. I know I’m not the only person who feels this way, and, having sat through my first opera, I now know that my assumptions were wrong.

Jo: I love listening to opera but wasn’t that bothered about seeing it performed until I saw Opera North’s production of Don Giovanni last autumn. Now I’m hooked! Opera is definitely greater than the sum of its parts: melodramatic theatre, caricatured personalities and awkward scripting, all brought together to provide a stage for some really exquisite music. It shouldn’t work but it does.

Me: When I mentioned on Twitter that I was going to the opera, I got lots of questions about what I was going to wear.  When I looked around the audience, there was a distinct lack of evening dress. Everyone was just in smart-ish clothes – just the kind of thing you’d wear for any night out in town. I’m wondering we get a lot of our perceptions about opera from seeing it on period dramas or something!

Jo: I can understand why people think there is snobbery around opera. There was a ‘shushing’ incident during Otello. I don’t think the sush-ers meant to be rude, more that people get passionately involved in the performance. Powerful music needs powerful silence to let it breathe and be fully appreciated.  Most every situation has a kind of etiquette or ritual attached to it.

Me: Another thing much of the audience had in common was grey hair, but actually, because opera deals with dramatic emotion, it’s perfect fodder for younger people. I wonder if it’s because opera seems to have a feeling of being ‘classical’ – most people could name something like ‘Madame Butterfly’ but not a contemporary opera. Is there even such a thing?

Jo: Popular music is full of songs about love, jealousy, defiance and betrayal. Our greatest hits aren’t about having a nap or walking your dog. Music that grabs your heart doesn’t deal with the in-between moments of life. That’s true of all kind of music and opera is no different.  ‘No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible.’ WH Auden.

Me: As Otello is sung in Italian, I was afraid it would be difficult to follow but the English sur-titles made it easy to understand what was going on. The language wasn’t at all complicated—the story and dialogue are stripped down to the bare bones. However, although the sur-titles were useful, they often reduced the emotional breadth of the music to just a couple of lines of dodgy dialogue.

Jo: As I got into the performance, I found the sur-titles really distracting. Next time I’d like to research ahead of time so I won’t have to read them. I think it’s like Saint-Saëns Danse Macabre—once you know the story, you can’t help but hear the instrumental characters in the piece.

Me: Although the production was impeccable, the opera itself wasn’t for me. There were some stand-out moments—the love duet between Otello and Desdemona—but for someone visiting the opera for the first time, Otello might not be the best choice. I think it’s a mistake to assume that because people know the Shakespeare play, they will find this particular opera accessible or appealing – even though the music was stunnin. They feel like two very separate entities.

Jo: I can’t fault the production, it’s just not an opera I’d choose to see again or recommend. The story didn’t satisfy me. I felt no investment in the characters: Desdemona was too wet; Otello wasn’t solid enough for his status; Iago’s strength was in the music; and Emilia just made me cross! Musically, my highlight was the love duet, ‘Gia Nella Notte Densa’.

Me: For me, the most impressive parts of Otello were when more than one character was singing at once and all their emotions and perspectives are woven together.  After eight years of living in Leeds, and countless visits to the theatre and ballet, I’m so glad I’ve finally seen an opera; I’m definitely a convert and a new fan of Opera North.

Jo: It was a huge privilege to stand on that stage; I now feel a personal connection to the theatre. I’m looking forward to booking my next Opera North performance, Dido and Aeneas. It’s only an hour and it’s sung in English and the cheapest seats are going for £15—it’d be a great place for anyone tempted to try opera out for themselves.

So, opera is for me, after all. Which, I’ll admit is something of a surprise. Now, I really do think that opera is for anyone and everyone  – so, if you get the chance, do try it out. And if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where you can see Opera North, then grab that opportunity. Overwhelmingly, again, it seems that the only way to decide if you like something is to try it. Otherwise you’ll never know…

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April 9, 2012

Language Lessons.

By the time you read this, I’ll (hopefully) be on my way to Italy. Where I will attempt to use the three sentences I’ve managed to learn during my not-so-successful experience of self-taught Italian language lessons. I have realised that in order to make lots of progress, I need more structure to my language learning and a proper teacher. It has been fun learning slowly on my own though, and I need to remember that fun is partly the reason for learning.

I had to make fast progress with my Italian the last time I was there. We had a villa and I had to call the housekeeper (who spoke no English) and confirm my arrival time, that I needed the to collect the keys from her, and the location. A difficult situation, considering that I spoke no Italian at all and was armed only with an phrase book. Still, I managed it and it taught me a lesson.

So often I have waited until I thought I was good enough to do something before doing it, so I don’t let anyone down, or worse, make a giant fool of myself. I’ve since realised that I’m never going to be good at anything if I don’t at least try. Purely because I am interested in so many things, I never devote enough time to learning just one thing, in the way that a specialist would put in the hours and hours of study of a single thing in order to be truly exceptional. I will never be a concert pianist! However, waiting until I’m ‘perfect’ is no use at all, it just means I grind to a halt and never experience the things that I truly want to.

So my new attitude is to do things badly, instead of not doing them at all. I’m going to jump in, make a mess and be absolutely rubbish. Really, the worst that can happen (as long as we’re talking sensible things here, not attempting surgery) is that I probably will make a fool of myself. However, the next time I try the same thing, I will make less of a fool of myself, and so on. So, the waiters of Rome are going to be at the mercy of my three sentences, because I plan to unleash them at every opportunity in the hope that after three days of repeating myself, I will be a little less foolish. A little better.

In a similar vein, I wrote my first review as a guest blogger for The Culture Vulture recently. It was a small review piece about the Leeds Young People’s Film Festival, but the minute I pressed send on my email, I wanted to retrieve it so I could re-write the whole thing. It was a good example for me of jumping in and taking a risk. Assuming I get the chance, the next time I write for them, I will be better, but the fact is that my little post was published on a website that I value and respect enormously, So I’ve made progress with something I’ve been trying to pluck up the courage to do for ages and it is such a great feeling.

Next on the list of things to do badly are kayaking and (possibly) singing or even hula hooping…

So, perhaps you could take a risk and have a go at something scary, instead of waiting until you think you’re good enough. You never know, you’re probably already better than you think…

June 9, 2011

Buongiorno, numero due!

I’ve written before on my preferred styles of learning, and my desire to have a go at some new methods, and it seems that the 35:35 Challenge is a great opportunity to give them a go!

One of my 35 Challenges was to visit somewhere new. Although I adore Paris with a passion I reserve for very few things, the world is a very big place and to only return to the same place, however wonderful, feels a bit self- limiting. So, even though I will be attempting (finances notwithstanding) to continue the annual pilgrimage to Paris, I am going to try and see a bit more of the world too.

With the children being so young, and with one eye on my carbon footprint, this really means the UK and Europe for now. We took the kids to Italy when they were small; Ben was only 4 months old, which when I think back, was actually quite a brave thing to do. Mind you, at least small babies stay where you put them! Now he’s two, I need eyes in the back of my head. The people we met in Italy were just lovely, the Tuscan countryside was amazing, and I loved the places we visited, such as Lucca and Florence, even though I spent much more time lounging around in local cafes than going to visit the Renaissance art!

So, as a result of that experience, I’ve decided to visit Rome. I’ve never been, it looks incredible and I can get there easily. This is going to be a break for just my husband and I, with the little ones staying with their adored and long-suffering grandparents ( thank you!)

Anyway, the point of all this waffle is that I always like to learn a bit of the language of any country I visit. I think it’s only polite, plus it usually means that  you have a better experience. Paris has a reputation for being a rude city, but I’ve never experienced this, perhaps because everyone is too busy trying not to laugh at my appalling accent…

So it’s time to commence Challenge 2 – to learn Italian. I managed a little bit the last time we visited, and Eve was happily shouting “ciao” to everyone after only a day there – proof that language learning is easiest when you’re a small child!

To do this, I have chosen several different new learning methods.

Number 1: Earworms. This is a very new idea for me and is based around the understanding that we retain information better when it’s delivered to us via music and rhythm – how many of us remember odd phrases in foreign languages as a result of song lyrics? Here’s the link, if you fancy a look: earworms mbt® is a revolutionary accelerated learning technique that takes the hard work out of learning.  I’ll be uploading this to my Ipod and listening to it every day.

Number 2: BBC Active | Talk Italian is the second method I’m going to use. A more traditional book and CD to work through, I’ve had a bit of success using this kind of method before, but it does require a bit more time spending on it, sitting at home and working through exercises.

Number 3: The third method is a bit of fun. MindSnacks Italian – Language Learning Program for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad on the iTunes App Store. This is basically a games based language learning app for the iPhone, which helps you to learn more vocabulary through spelling and recognition.

So, there we are, I’m starting today. Wish me luck.

Ciao!