Yesterday afternoon, some friends and I went to the Stern Grove Festival, presenting San Francisco Opera in the Park. Now normally I do not really have the disposable income to participate in operatic escapades (though on occasion the prices can be reasonable), but this time the event was free, Free, FREE! Starting at 2 PM, we could enjoy beautiful weather, great music, dust, and alcohol.
After my party of three arrived late (I accidentally made us get off 2 stops early when riding the M), we joined the other party of three waiting with blankets already spread on the hill. We hadn’t realized that beer and wine were both totally acceptable during Stern Grove festivities, so we had prepared, in advance, mimosas in a cleverly packaged orange juice gallon jug. Sneaky, sneaky! Regardless of the fact that we no longer had to hide our alcohol, it was very rewarding to sip mimosas at 2:30 PM while listening to opera outside.
In reality, we were just trying to get at the heart of the operatic experience. I mean, honestly, about 400 years ago, when opera was just a baby in the crib, it was THE entertainment for the masses. Sure it started out in Italy with a group of Renaissance academics wanting to fuse all art, and was used to celebrate lavish weddings and courtly celebrations, but it quickly moved on to the opera house. Besides, those very same academics wanted opera to revive the old Greek tradition of theatre, and we all know the Greeks liked to party. So really, what better way to celebrate opera than outside drinking?
Because of my tardiness we missed a good portion of the first half of the performance, but still caught the second half of Hadleigh Adams singing “Billy Bud,” by Benjamin Britten. Boy, can voices be deceiving. Adams has quite a large, beautiful voice, so I was expecting a large, middle-age man to go along with it. To put it bluntly, he was a wisp. A young, thin, and rather good looking one. Shocking, but fun. He was the only singer I actually got a good look at, because when we found our friends, I realized that our view was rather obscured by trees. I have no idea what anyone else looked like while singing except for vague guesses about their dress. For instance, I’m pretty sure Ailyn Pérez changed during intermission from a purple dress to a white dress, and I think Stephen Costello was wearing all black.
The show was a selection of opera from Richard Wagner, Giuseppe Verdi, and Benjamin Britten. The orchestra and singing was so enjoyable that almost the entire grove gave them a standing ovation. Then, to the satisfaction of us all, Pérez and Costello each gave an encore, with Pérez singing “Summertime” by George Gershwin, and finished it off with a duet with the whole cast joining in for the finish. There were a few times I got chills of pleasure throughout the performance, and I must confess, opera might become a new obsession.
For more history about Opera find the links below the pictures and click on the composers’ names in my article!
“A Brief History of Opera.” The National Opera Center America. <http://www.operaamerica.org/content/education/learningCenter/intro.aspx>
Sorabella, Jean. “The Opera.” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/opra/hd_opra.htm>
“Timelines in music history: A timeline in opera.” Oxford Music Online. <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/public/page/operatimeline>
Woolfe, Zachary. “Has the Fat Lady finally sung?” The New York Times: 27. Dec. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/28/books/a-history-of-opera-by-carolyn-abbate-and-roger-parker.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0> After reading this book review I think I’ll skip the actual book (though who knows), but the article was interesting!