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Once upon a time, a prince woke to find himself lost in an enchanted forest in a strange land. He had no idea how he had arrived in such a place, nor how he would ever return home. The forest was dark and full of mysterious sounds. He was alone and afraid.

Ever since jumping headlong into the opera industry – first as a performer and then on the administrative side of the table – I’ve noticed that lots of people are curious whether I’m willing or able to name my very favorite opera. I’ve never been particularly good at choosing favorites. That said, should I ever find myself banished to a desert island, with the mysterious rule that I can only take along a few opera recordings with me, Eugene Onegin would easily make it into that first handful I would grab as I was pulled from my home!

A witch and a soldier meet at the Superhero Bowl in Italy. The witch loves the soldier, but he isn’t sure if he loves her back. But with the help of an Italian princess, the witch and soldier beat Darth Vader in football, thus proving that love and teamwork conquers all… including the galactic empire.

Yes, this is an opera. And it is awesome.

Opera is considered by many to be the ultimate artform. More than any other discipline, opera brings all of the arts together into one—hopefully—seamless theatrical experience. Opera is not created in a vacuum. and the history and culture of its creators influence and shape the pieces we perform.

Nationalism was a big deal in the 19th century, and in this age of revolution, music was often used to create this sense of national identity. Whether it was the bel canto operas of Italy, the romanticism of German, or the theatrical flair of France, Verdi, Wagner, Meyerbeer (although not French, he did a lot for French nationalism) and others created music that defined the nations they represented.

Whether it be the recent Metropolitan Opera production of Rigoletto, which moves the action to Las Vegas in the 1960’s, or that particular turn of phrase above that we’ve used to help publicize our production of Rigoletto, I’ve had many people ask what we’re going to “do” to the opera.

When Arizona Opera began to plan how we wanted to launch the first artistic season planned entirely by us, the current administration, a few things were clear. Practical goals needed to be achieved in order to capitalize on the momentum our company had enjoyed in the previous season—the two most important of which were building larger audiences and garnering more support for our art.

Verdi is one of the greatest operatic composers of all time. While this sentence may seem hyperbolic, ever since he hit his stride in the 1850s, Verdi reputation as the greatest musical dramatist has only grown, and it is Verdi’s mythic status that makes his works among the most performed operas in the world.

YES! Says Maria Nockin

Maria Nockin is an opera critic whose works have appeared in Classical Singer Magazine, Opera Today, Music and Vision Daily and elsewhere.  Further articles and reviews can be found, in English at www,operatoday.com or in Spanish at www.proopera.org.mx.

NO! says Iris Arnesen

Iris Arnesen is the author of Nine Famous Opera: What’s really Going On! and The Romantic World of Puccini: A New Critical Appraisal of the Operas.  She is a lecturer on opera and editor of The Opera Glass, a performing arts periodical that covers opera, theatre, dance, and concert music.

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