Until the Fat Lady Sings

The Archetypal Opera Singer, as rendered by the author
The Archetypal Opera Singer, as rendered by the author

Many people regard opera as elitist, boring, and on the wane. A relic of past grandiosity that is out of touch with present aesthetics and popular culture. Something that soon will go the way of the dodo or Hostess snack cake

As the saying goes, however, the future of opera is not so easily prophesized. The “fat lady” might in fact be singing, but it most certainly is not over.
In Montreal, there are many options for opera lovers and neophytes alike. At McGill, the Schulich School of Music is well renowned, and offers a multitude of performances throughout the year. Convenient, economical, and supports young artists in our university community. Consult their event calendar here.

Opéra de Montréal performs four operas per year, with ateliers and concerts filling out the season. Tickets range greatly in price, from $21 to well over a hundred (okay, maybe it can be elitist). Season tickets make going a bit more affordable, and as a student under 30, you can purchase them at a discounted rate. An extra perk of buying season tickets is the “Cartopéra,” which gives you discounts at several museums, performance venues, and movie theaters (My personal favorite is the 15% off at Cinéma Du Parc!).

Performances take place at Place des Arts, and generally are held on Thursday or Saturday evenings, beginning at 7.30 and out before 11. The crowd is diverse, and friendly. I suggest a glass of wine ($6) during intermission, which makes people watching and consequent acts even more enjoyable.

Next week, Opéra de Montréal will begin its run of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.” First performed in 1935, the opera follows Porgy, a disabled black beggar living in the slums of Charleston, South Carolina, as he tries to win over his love, Bess. From the opera, most are familiar with  Summertime, which has been recorded over 25,000 times by musical giants such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, to more contemporary arrangements, by the likes of Janis Joplin, Sublime, and Morcheeba. Many will also recognize It ain’t necessarily so, as song by great Aretha Franklin and others.

Finally, opera has come to the cinema. In a bid to make opera more accessible, major opera companies now screen performances (live and recorded) to theaters around the world. In Montreal, Cinéma Du Parc screens performances from the Opéra National de Paris , while both Scotia Bank Theater and the AMC Forum screen Met performances. The tickets generally go for around $20.

Full disclosure: I grew up on opera. A copied VHS of Placido Domingo in Carmen served as a replacement for Saturday morning cartoons. So I recognize I have a bias here. Still, I find having an opera in the background a soothing distraction while I compile notes, make Excel files, or write blog posts. And going to watch an opera live, well, that is the sort of distraction that makes live worth living.

2 thoughts on “Until the Fat Lady Sings

  1. Emilio, have you ever been to any of the Met performances? I’ve been curious seeing the ads in the movie theaters but wasn’t sure about the atmosphere of watching an opera while eating popcorn at Scotia Bank Place! Looking forward your thoughts (even if biased!)

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    1. No, I haven’t been able to, but I hear they’re alright! While nothing beats a live performance, there is something rather relaxing about watching a show in the cinema (and less shameful if you doze off to the nice music).

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