‘Tis again the season of giving and receiving. In case you are pulling out your hair trying to come up with a good gift for an opera-loving friend, here are a few suggestions from the operatic corner:
1. Ticket to a performance at the local opera house. There truly is nothing like attending an opera in person, mingling with the affluent while soaking in some of the most extraordinary and totally au naturel aural extravaganza imaginable, all in the context of a staged performance. That said, which opera you are providing the ticket to matters, so it is well advised that you get some idea of what your opera-loving friend enjoys or not. Generally a lover of Mozart will also tend to love the Baroque operas by Handel and also the bel canto works by Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti. Those who love Wagner, however, tend to also prefer other German works by Richard Strauss and some romantic period French operas by Gounod or Berlioz.
If you won’t be able to find out your friend’s operatic preference before hand, the safest bets are: Carmen, La Boheme, Tosca, The Magic Flute, Cavalleria Rusticana and/or Paggliacci, La Traviata, and The barber of Seville. The works to avoid: Lulu, Salome, Elektra, Parsifal.
The most expensive seats in the house are on the orchestra level, of course, but any seasoned opera goers will tell you that the acoustic there is almost always the worst… and there is also the intimidating factor of being surrounded by well cut tuxedos and designer dress decorated with enough polished rocks to sink Titanic even in ice burg-free water. Instead, be savvy and go for the front center rows of the mezzanines or the lower balconies instead. Those seats won’t deprive you of the ability to eat for the rest of the year while also giving your friend or loved one both great acoustic and line of sight to what is going on on the stage.
If you are feeling especially generous, go for a subscription of multiple performances instead of just a single show!
2. Met Player subscription. The Metropolitan Opera keeps and nice HD archive of their performances that are made available for viewing for a fee (currently $149.99 per year) via streaming on the Met Player. All opera selections come with optional English subtitle (the more recent performances even have options for subtitle in French, German and Spanish as well). If the price tag is too steep for you, you can even opt to buy the friend a Met gift card for lesser amount that he can use toward buying his own subscription or other cool items at the Met Opera Shop.
3. Ticket to opera HD broadcast to the cinema. You don’t even have to travel to New York or the major European opera houses to catch a show nowadays. Check your local theaters for upcoming HD broadcast of opera from the greatest opera theaters in the world! Tickets to these performances are a lot cheaper than ones for attending the opera live, and though you do have to put up with recorded acoustic and selective view from the stage (you only get to see what the camera is looking at), it still is a good pay off considering the chance for you (or your friend) to glimpse at today’s brightest operatic stars for less than half the price. You can check out which opera to see and the location of the nearest participating movie theaters at Metropolitan Opera HD Schedule or Opera in Cinema websites,
4. Sirius Satellite Radio. The Metropolitan Opera is really everywhere, including on a Sirius radio channel that does opera on a near 24/7 basis. For less than $100, your friend will be eternally grateful to be able to tune in to great past recordings as well as live broadcast from the Met. The radio had some technical glitches when it first hit the market a few years ago, but has since worked out its kinks and the sound is quite commendable.
5. The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Opera has been around since the 1600’s and even the most brainiac among us have to look things up every now and then. Help your friend or loved one out nerd his fellow opera nutters with this gift of well organized knowledge. And, who knows, maybe you will want to borrow the volumes the next time Alex Trebek includes an opera category during a double Jeopardy round!
6. La Nilsson: My Life In Opera. Of all the tall mounds of well written operatic memoirs, none out-shine the others in terms of sheer personality and the will to be humorous as this collection of memories by the deservedly beloved Birgit Nilsson. The Swedish soprano was considered by many as the prima donna assoluta of the Wagner and Strauss repertoire in the post-WW II era and she was possibly the only person who called Herbert von Karajan ‘Herbie’ and lived to tell the tale. A cheeky lady who never forgot her humble root (she liked to joke about how she spent the day before her operatic debut milking 7 cows at her father’s farm in Skåne), Nilsson lived an eventful life and had many interesting memories to share. This spunky memoir would still be a great read even if your friend is not a Wagnerian opera lover.
7. Anna Russell: The (First) Farewell Concert DVD. If you hadn’t heard of Anna Russell before, then you might want this gift for yourselves! Anna Russell was an opera comedian extraordinaire who gave ‘concerts’ of opera and classical music sketches while accompanying herself on the piano. Brilliantly hilarious in a most lovable way, an opera fan has not truly comprehended Wagner’s Ring Cycle until he has heard Russell’s analysis of it.
Aside from all these, of course, you can always check the local opera house or even browse the online shops: the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera House – Covent Garden, La Scala, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Bavarian State Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Los Angeles Opera for logo items.