A sad clown must be a clown today, even if he isn’t feeling it. Photo of Pagliacci.

Sometimes during an opera, usually when the plot really thickens, time and reality are suspended (not unlike month 16 of quarantine), and our heroes launch into an aria or duet of pure beauty and emotional expression. These musical “time-outs” are the building blocks and secret sauce of opera: the thing that combines story and song to make a masterpiece.

These nuanced and soaring vocals can reveal and release the angst, love, fury, joy, or fears of the central characters, and gives the audience a kind of emotional space to witness a journey though the inner-workings of the human heart—towards a deeper understanding of our shared experiences in life.

Sure: many operas boast ludicrous storylines, ridiculous disguises, dizzying love triangles, tragic deaths, existential clown dilemmas, and vengeful murders. And yes: some may demand a whopping suspension of disbelief.  But, at this moment, taking some time to let these very hopeful heroes share emotional space through their songs just might be the right idea.

COVID continues to impact the moments that matter in life—in highly dramatic ways—as we grieve for people we’ve lost, celebrations that can’t be held, people who are far away, fears for the future, financial hardships, and delayed or different milestones. It is high drama right now for many, and that is not new to the world of opera. So, what better time to find solace in an art form that has survived epidemics and pandemics before?

The team at Portland Opera has curated a Spotify playlist for falling in love with opera right now. Just like live performances in Portland, you can relish them in jeans or sweatpants, or a full gown or tux in your living room. No judgement. What matters is the listening.

10 SONGS THAT MIGHT MAKE YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH OPERA RIGHT NOW:

  1. The “Flower Duet” from Lakme, by Leo Delibes

A duet about joy and also about the fears of loved ones staying safe; sung while gathering flowers by the river (a socially distant activity, BTW).

  1. The “Humming Chorus” from Madama Butterfly, by Giacomo Puccini

A beautiful choral piece about waiting….. and waiting….. and waiting…. at home.

  1. “Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray / Standing’ in the Need of Prayer” from the album Steal Away by Shawn E Okpebholo

Though this technically is not an opera, this song features two of opera’s current stars J’nai Bridges and Will Liverman (last seen at Portland Opera in La Bohème) with pianist Paul Tuntland Sánchez, in an arrangement that will leave you wondering who is cutting onions for sure. Recently, composer Shawn E Okpebholo’s work has been featured on Portland Opera’s Onscreen digital channel, in Journeys to Justice and in live broadcast performances from the Hampton Opera Center. 

  1. “Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore” from Tosca by Giacomo Puccini

One of the world’s most beloved arias.  Tosca is singing about finding herself and her loved ones at the mercy of others, and about struggling with her faith.

  1. “Escúchame” from Florencia en el Amazonas, by Daniel Catán

After you reread One Hundred Years of Solitude again, check out this opera from Daniel Catán, inspired by Marquez and his magic realism. This poetic aria is about hearing, seeing, and feeling those we’ve lost, in nature and in ourselves, even when they are gone.

  1. “Nessun dorma” from Turandot by Giacomo Puccini

Swoon!  A famous tenor aria about falling in love at first sight, and the belief that love wins.

  1. “Au fond du temple saint” from The Pearl Fishers by Georges Bizet

Two friends sing their promise that no woman can ever come between them. Then their bonds of friendship are tested when a beautiful priestess arrives…but this ode to friendship might still prompt a check-in with your bestie today.

  1. “Dammi I colori!...Recondite armonia” from Tosca by Giacomo Puccini

A painter paints while he sings about how beautiful his beloved is, in comparison to a woman he is painting. You can try this at home, but your song might not be as beautiful as Puccini’s.

  1. Bon Appétit! by Lee Hoiby

This is a mini opera that is actually just Julia Child’s recipe for chocolate cake. It was the last production that Portland Opera did before the COVID-19 closures in 2020, and numerous company members have since perfected the recipe.

  1. “V. Hope” from Cantata for a More Hopeful Tomorrow by Damien Geter

Ok so this isn’t technically an opera, but it is the final movement from a cantata written by Damien Geter, one of Portland Opera’s amazing Artistic Advisors. This stunning piece needs no explanation: it just needs to be heard.

Listen to the playlist.

Bravi! Are you maybe falling in love with opera right now?  Give in to it.  Listen more.  And, as any opera lover knows, there is nothing quite like experiencing it live. Portland Opera is planning a traditional and beautiful production of Tosca at the Keller Auditorium from October 29 – November 6. Tickets are available now from $35. Vaccines (or negative tests) and masks will be required.  You are so very invited to celebrate the return to grand opera in Portland, with those who raise their voices to sing about the moments that matter in life.

P.S.: An insider-tip:

Aside from navigating complex feelings with beautiful music and singing, there is much to be gained from the world of opera that could be beneficial for you right now.  For instance, there used to be a tradition of an “aria di sorbetto.” Basically, when a supporting character had a brief solo, opera goers in Italy would sneak away to buy sorbet without missing too much of the action. Try it on Zoom?

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