Three Countries, Three Performances, Three Opera Houses

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Elizabeth Benz
April 30, 2014

A running theme through this semester has been the incredible amount of opera and opera culture that I’ve been able to experience. Last semester I took a general Opera History course, and this semester I continued my study of the art form through a fantastic class offered at IES Abroad entitled “Giuseppe Verdi: Melodrama and Italian Identity.” Among our numerous field studies, such as visiting the La Scala museum and Verdi’s grave in Milan, we were able to attend two complete operas through IES Abroad.

The first, “Il Trovatore,” or “The Troubadour,” is one of Verdi’s great tragic masterpieces and we were able to see the final dress rehearsal – which is virtually the same as the opening night performance. It made what we were learning about in class all the more important as we could see our lectures come to life. Later in the semester, we had the rare chance to see another full opera at La Scala. This time it was Hector Berlioz’s grand operà “Les Troyens,” adapted from Virgil’s epic about the fall of Troy. Instead of a dress rehearsal, though, it was the premier of the production in Milan! The production was incredible, of course, but it was just as enjoyable to watch the other opera-goers from our box in all their finery and observe the modern culture and traditions surrounding an opera production.

My experiences at La Scala would have been a dream for any music student, but I wasn’t quite done with opera just yet. During my spring break, two other IES Abroad music students and I visited (over five days) Münich, Salzburg, Vienna, and Budapest. Part of the reason we chose these cities was their rich musical heritage. In Vienna, I was able to go on a tour of the beautiful Vienna Staatsoper – one of the busiest in the world! They stage as many as five different operas every week during the season. That night they were showing Wagner’s “Lohengrin,” but we were too tired from traveling to stand through all five hours of it. You can get rush tickets in Vienna and several other opera venues for as little as three or four Euro, but the trade-off is you don’t get a seat. Like standing through your little brother’s overcrowded elementary school Christmas concert, but for ten times longer.

The crowning experience of spring break was getting to see Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” at Budapest’s opera house. Thankfully, the great exchange rate between Hungarian Forints and Euros meant that we could afford to get tickets with a seat. Not only were the singers and scenery incredible, the opera house itself is a work of art. The amazing thing about opera is that it doesn’t matter what language you speak or if you can understand the words – the beauty of the music and the emotion of the singers transcends cultural barriers.

On that note, we got to witness that an angry “SHHHHHHH!!!!” is the same in every country and every language. 

benz headshot

Elizabeth Benz

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Elizabeth Benz is a lifetime upstate New York resident who never takes the snow brush out of the back seat of her car. Originally from Buffalo, NY, she is a senior Music Education/Violin Performance major and Italian minor at Ithaca College. These three passions were intertwined on a life-changing trip in 2006 to the International Suzuki Method Conference in Turin, Italy, where she not only saw the communicative power of music across young artists from many nationalities, but also fell in love with the language and culture of the country. Eight years later she is fulfilling the promise she made to herself to return to Italy, after completing her senior student teaching practicum. She is particularly interested in observing the emphasis and importance placed on youth music and arts programs across Europe, and returning with ideas to inspire and support her own program at a future teaching job.</span></p>

2014 Spring
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Ithaca College
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