If you were to browse through a high school student's iTunes playlist, you'd be more likely to find pop hits by artists such as One Direction or Rihanna than you would arias from classic operas. But what happens when you tear students away from YouTube and Snapchat for a day to see Puccini's
Tosca at the War Memorial Opera House? Find out from high school student, Kelsey Page as she describes her experience attending the Madeline H. Russell High School Day at the Opera last November. Then, check out which San Francisco Opera final dress rehearsals are open to students during this upcoming fall season!
Everyone knows the opera is the pinnacle of quality singing—no auto-tuning to hide behind, no electro overtones to drown out the poor quality of the singer’s voice—just the raw beauty of the human vocal cords. So when I found that I would be attending the Madeline H. Russell High School Day at the Opera along with my English class, I was ecstatic, to say the least.
Before taking this class, my knowledge of opera was comprised solely of the exaggerated stereotype of a performer standing on a stage and shattering the windows of an entire auditorium with a single note. My ignorance was cured after we began our study of the different types of singers and how to identify instruments and tones in the music.
Everything looked nice in theory, but nothing could prepare me for the first aria my teacher, Ms. Solari, played for us: Kiri te Kanawa singing “Vissi d’arte.” The flawless resonance of the soprano voice that pulsed through my body, made my heart beat a little faster, the mystical Italian, which I attempted to decipher through my knowledge of the Spanish language—it was like all my previous cultural experiences were irrelevant up to this point. I worked it out in my head later that day: you listen to music, but you feel an aria.
I spent the night before the big day texting my classmates, obsessing over each little detail of our sophisticated, polished outfits, building up the anticipation of the day. I arose early the next morning to get ready, buzzed through my morning classes, and climbed into the van. How odd it was that we were here, dressed to the nines, ready to embrace a new artistic experience, living the high society life, while the rest of the students muddled through the rest of their classes. Ha!
Finally 2 o’clock came around and our class hustled through the doors and found our way up to our boxes. Cozy, classic, perfectly situated, and just oh-so luxurious (not to mention the cookies provided during intermission). As I opened the velvet curtain to our private balcony, I was taken aback by the elaborate stage props just waiting to be brought to life by the performers.
Soon enough the lights dimmed and the opera stars lit up the stage. During the performance, I discovered that my position in my seat mimicked the way I felt about the action in the opera. As the tenor bellowed a magnificent rendition of “Recondita Armonia” in the baroque setting of the church, I eased into the back of my chair, trying to embrace the full power of the aria. As Scarpia threatened Tosca with the death of her lover, I clung to the edge of my seat, tapping my feet anxiously, rooting for Tosca to figure a way out of the situation. Finally, as Patricia Racette finished her outstanding performance with a dramatic exit from the stage, I found myself out of my chair completely and on my feet instead to give the performers a well-deserved standing ovation. Brava, Tosca! It may have been my first time at the opera, but it certainly will not be my last—a cultural milestone indeed!