Amber Youell of Morningside Opera

Amber Youell of Morningside Opera

New York City is full of surprises, like the event I attended last Saturday afternoon at Jimmy’s No. 43 in the East Village. I always know to expect a good show from Morningside Opera, but I had no idea how entertaining a lecture recital on the history of the art form could be.

MO company member Amber Youell (who recently received her PhD in musicology from Columbia University) schooled us with a slide show and recruited fellow MO members Brittany Palmer, Michael Shaw, and Brett Umlauf to sing some fantastic musical examples.

Some highlights for me included Amber’s comparisons of the various eras of opera to modern day cultural phenomena: Opera Seria was compared to the superhero genre (think castrati, whose, er, natural state had been altered to secure phenomenally powerful voices), Opera Buffa was compared to the sitcom (Seinfeld), and the 19th century to sweeping epic films (LOTR).

Amber also pointed out that, until Wagner came on the scene, going to an opera was quite a different experience than it is today. There was a much more relaxed atmosphere during the performance (her analogy was to a ball game), with people eating and even chatting during the less eventful stretches of music, and paying closer attention during the vocal gymnastics of the arias. What struck me when she said this was how much her lecture recital resembled parts of this description. Throughout the lecture, even during the singing, people were being served brunch, drinking wine and coffee, and exuberantly reacting to what was happening on the stage.