It’s a fair thing to say that classical music, and more specifically opera, is what brought me and my husband together. We met while working at The Denver Post, but our first date – seeing Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” at Opera
Colorado – may have been a sort of test. He didn’t want to marry anyone who wasn’t into opera, and I wanted someone who wouldn’t squirm at the sound of “squeaky violins and tinkly pianos,” as one of my ex-boyfriends once described classical.
We’ve seen symphonies, chamber-music concerts and yes, operas in our quarter-century together. Mostly operas. Shortly after we moved to the Washington, D.C. area I got him season tickets for opera as a birthday present. We just kept going. It’s been wonderful!
We’ve seen — no pun intended — scores of operas, including multiple bites at my two favorites, Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” and Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier.” And the exhibition “A Night at the Opera” that the Library of Congress is opening today will probably get visited, repeatedly, by my spouse because it’s heavy on items by his two favorite opera composers: Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, both of whom are observing 200th-birthday celebrations this year.
If opera gets inside your head – even at the Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd level – you’ll really enjoy this exhibition. It displays several manuscripts in the composers’ own hand – one from Verdi’s opera “Attila” and another from Wagner’s “Walküren” (The Valkyrie); a third from Alban Berg’s “Wozzeck” and letters — from Berg to fellow composer Schoenberg and from Puccini to Alfredo Vandini. It can inspire awe to be a few inches away from something these greats actually touched.
And the exhibition features programs and the stage manager’s original score from George and Ira Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess,” from the Library’s unparalleled Gershwin collection.
There are also many beautiful visuals: first editions of opera scores (including a 1787 piano-vocal score from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and the full score from Wagner’s “Lohengrin”) and photos of some of opera’s greatest stars through history, from Enrico Caruso (as Radamés in “Aida”) to Lauritz Melchior (as Lohengrin) to Marian Anderson as Ulrica in “Ballo”) to Lily Pons as Lakmé and Alexander Kipnis as the title character in “Boris Godunov.”
Speaking of Boris, there is a wonderful wall-size rendition of the coronation scene from “Boris” and there are gorgeous set designs, in watercolor, by Oliver Smith for his 1960s productions of “Carmen” and “Don Giovanni.” The exhibit also features the original Galileo Chini set design for Puccini’s “Turandot” from 1926.
The Library of Congress has superb music collections, and this exhibition brings forward the cream of its huge opera holdings. Don’t miss it!