While Operas and Musicals are both a form of storytelling where song is involved, they are still different. Both are home to tragedies and comedies- the difference is that operas have an association with tragedies and musicals have an association with comedies.
Here is one way I can describe operas’ association with tragedies. Look at the death scenes. Opera deaths take quite a LONG time- as in it can feel like an entire act. On the other hand, the musical deaths do not deal with that- their deaths take basically something like a few minutes. So here was just one way to describe how Operas are known for being tragic. When I saw La Bohème yesterday, Mimi’s death took basically an entire act- I believe part of the catharsis comes from Rodlofo being there.
Another difference has to do with the kind of language going on. In the musical theatre world, the musical is always translated to fit each country-English, Spanish, Japanese, etc….. Look what Opera does- it never translates: it is always the original language: usually either Italian or French.
Yes, I said the songs are usually translated in musicals and not in operas. However, there is still quite a difference. I have noticed that in operas, there tends to be this more classical sound. Musicals on the other hand have a more theatrical sound- the only type of songs that are the the closest to classical are some of the love songs (as in the ones that belong to a couple). That does explain the instruments that are being used- Operas have to use more strings while musicals, on the other hand, have to combine a more variety of instruments.
Yes, I am at heart a musical theatre fan. There are moments where you want to see something else. One of the musicals I fell in love with was Rent. Not only is Rent one of my favorite and meaningful musicals-it led me to wanting to see something else. I soon learned that Rent was based off of the tragic opera, La Bohème. Ever since, I wanted to see that Opera- yes, you saw that right- someone who loves musicals really wanted to see an Opera.
Opera Carolina does use Blumenthal Performing Arts, and this year, they decided to do La Bohème. When I found out about that, I know what I was thinking. While I still wanted to see the musicals, I still wanted to see La Bohème- that was something that felt like forever. La Bohème is the tragic love story between Rodolfo and Mimi.
Adam Smith: Rodolfo
Stefanna Kybalova: Mimi
Peter Morgan: Colline
Keith Harris: Schaunard
Giovanni Guagliardo: Marcello
Corey Raquel Lovelace: Musetta
Songs-Spoilers (even though expected)
When it comes to the La Bohéme songs, the ones I loved the most were the ones that Mimi and Rodolfo sang. No joke- after all, they are the main couple, and it is their story after all. These two truly do love each other, and that is strongly expressed in their songs; even in the end. I nearly almost lost it in the end right when Rodolfo knew Mimi was dead- seriously, I did. I literally did not want it to end that way- I wanted them to stay together-their songs truly made me not want to end like that. Tragic love stories are rough.
Like any storyline, it needs to be one you need to stay invested in. La Bohème’s works. There are the emotions of grief, pain, and heartbreak. There are moments of comic relief- one of which comes at JUST THE RIGHT TIME. Literally, Rodolfo, Colline, Schunard, and Marcello were having a happy time in their apartment right before Mimi arrives dying (Musetta arrives too). So- just the right time. What I love about the ending (despite taking forever)- is that at least Mimi dies with Rodolfo by her side. These two truly did love each other despite some complications- that is a HUGE reason why I love their relationship and this storyline.
For some reason, which was good, I was most attached to Adam and Stefanna- the Rodolfo and Mimi. That was probably why I wanted Rodolfo and Mimi’s relationship to not fail despite knowing it was to be. Out of everyone in the group, Mimi is the most vulnerable and fragile. Literally at the end, Rodolfo was extremely devastated- I could see it, and I literally nearly lost it.
Well, each act; which was four acts to my surprise. Each act ended up being a completely different set- that was why those all of those acts. I loved all of them from the loft where Rodolfo and his friends life; the market; and outside of where Musetta lives. You actually can see it snow.
Okay, I love La Bohéme. Beautiful love story- what I love is while it mainly is a tragic love story is that there is a second that is lighter in nature. My favorite Opera. Here’s what I can say: tragic operas are not the same as tragic musicals. Only saying that due to operas’ reputation for being tragic.
For some reason- I feel like tragic love stories can be more difficult than a typical tragedy see unfold. Especially if you have fallen in love with the couple and the story itself.
Well, there are tragic musicals. That would mean characters do die in some of them. There is one thing that might be a bit surprising, which did surprise me as well. There are actually deaths that have joy in them. That would not make sense. When we think of death- we think of grief and mourning. We do not even think that happiness could happen. Well, there actually is and the only way to understand is to understand the character. Les Mis is where I first saw deaths as memorable. SPOILERS.
First up is Fantine’s death. What we have seen is nothing but tragedy in her storyline. She literally was left alone to care for her daughter, Cosette. She is a struggling single mother, who left her daughter in the hands of the Thenardiers (little does she know the abuse Cosette will face). She did find a job at Valjean’s factory, but was fired. Well, this is when things get uncomfortable- her life has literally shattered: her dreams are broken and she had to nothing left to do but become a prostitute (“Lovely Ladies” is the hardest scene to watch). She is suffering a lot, but it is all of an unconditional love for her daughter. She eventually became seriously ill due to living on the streets, but luckily Valjean came to help her. When she was dying, he made a promise to raise Cosette-this gave her peace and comfort for once and a bit of happiness. So you see, you have to understand her love and hope for Cosette to figure this one out.
Second is Eponine’s death. Eponine is another tragic character. She is an unloved, abused, and neglected teenager. She grew up in the criminal world and ended up living in extreme poverty. She was never shown kindness by anyone. She literally only had one good thing in her life-Marius, who also was the only person who showed her kindness. Due to that, she fell in love with him, but unrequitedly. She was more loyal to him then her parents. She would do anything for him no matter the cost, which eventually led her to the barricade. She ended up sacrificing her life for him, which left Marius devastated, but at least he showed her compassion by holding her in his arms and giving her comfort by staying there until her death. The happiness comes from Marius being there. So once again another example.
Jean Valjean’s death is another example. He is our main character and is the father of Cosette. After all, he is the one who promised to raise Cosette after Fantine died. Cosette meant a lot to Valjean. Cosette had a better life once Valjean entered (she used to live with Eponine’s parents). After Cosette and Marius married, they ended up going to Valjean as he was dying. So he was able to see Cosette one last time- that is where the happiness comes from.
So you see, even tough moments can have the positive emotions going on. I never once would have though that even some of the most heartbreaking moments could possibly have happiness in it. It all comes down to understanding who characters are. The tragic musics, you need to be able to pick up on the positive emotions or else the trap of calling the musical TOO DEPRESSING comes up- that is what I originally called Les Mis. In Les Mis, I had to dig deeper to find what why I felt uplifted at the end because it did not make sense. All of the characters have their tragedies and their hopes- even the most tragic characters have some kind of light going on. Even the survivors have something tragic to deal with. You just have to understand characters to understand what I am talking about.
There was a time when the genre of tragedy was 100% foreign to me in all types of storytelling- in literature and in theatre. In 9th grade, when it was time to start studying Shakespare’s Romeo and Juliet, I finally discovered the genre of tragedy- I did make the WRONG assumptions about the genre and thought I would NEVER love one. Literally, I had thought they were pure sad, but little did I know what the future had in store for me. I was kinda of hoping tragedies did not exist in MUSICALS- I knew the emotion of sad existed and thought I knew the full extent of emotions, but did I?
This post is referring directly to Les Mis, the tragic story and musical that would change a lot of things. While it took a 2nd chance on the film to become a fan, it eventually would play a massive role in my role for musicals. While Wicked sparked the love, Les Mis was responsible for the passion. It was kinda of surprising to me that I had actually come across a tragic musical.
Well- one of the most common questions I am being asked it “why do you keep on going back to Les Mis if you keep on going to feel heartbroken like that?” November 3rd, 2019 marked my 6th time seeing the stage show, and I am not done yet. Well, while Les Mis is tragic and heartbreaking, it is so much more. For something to truly be tragic, there needs to be the “catharsis” at the end- it was that word that I failed to understand in the past. Les Mis is not only tragic and heartbreaking, it is also spiritual, inspiring, and uplifting. Why is that? Think about some of the themes- hope, love, compassion, forgiveness, sacrifice, humanity, and redemption: those can be hard to spot, but they are in there. So, the musical has a beautiful underlying spirituality, and that can keep you going despite the level of heartbreak- the emotions in Les Mis do get intense- as in feeling like you are hit by a pile of bricks (tears) and feeling goosebumps: it is that powerful.
There are characters in there you can easily get strongly attached to that you want to keep on seeing their stories’ unfold. Even if you know that some of their lives are tragic, you have to remember that “ALL” the characters in Les Mis experience something tragic- all of the leads. In addition to that, a lot of them have something hopeful even the most tragic characters. Do musical theatre characters’ truly die once the curtain falls? Do you know how I kept the Les Mis characters’ alive- in my heart and soul because of my emotion connection: that is how it is with emotional connection. People might think I am kinda of crazy because they might be like “didn’t a lot of them die”- well, yes, but you want characters’ stories to continue to live, which keeps them alive.
In addition, this is a STRONG point, which is true for basically every musical. The songs- those powerful, emotional, passionate, hopeful, and epic songs. This is a musical where the songs perfectly complement the characters- not the other way around. While I am it, the STRONG- Les Mis’ stories is so well-crafted that if you get rid of one tiny thing, the entire story starts unraveling itself- that means you need all of the characters and their storylines to happen or else the story is in ruins.
To try to summarize, what I tend to be drawn to are complex musicals. That would mean complex characters and a complex plot. That would include songs having positive and negative emotions. Les Mis has it all- complex characters, plot, and songs. It might not seem like it really has positive emotions, but they are there- sometimes it might mean looking deeper- the positive emotions get extremely clear when the students get in the picture: that is when hope seems to be the strongest if you did not notice it before. Love looks the strongest with Marius and Cosette- yes, its a love triangle, but I am talking about the positive emotions. There are actually some scenes you probably wouldn’t think would be capable of positive emotions, but they are there (death scenes for instance- its called understanding the characters to figure this one out).
By the end of feeling all of this heartbreak, Jean Valjean (the main character) does die- but with Cosette, his adopted daughter, and Marius, his now son-in-law by his side. We feel uplifted due to how strong Valjean’s redemption is at the end- we know how much he has changed-he does have the two candlesticks the bishop; he kept them with him ever since that particular moment. After Valjean dies, the ending song is a reprise of “Do you Hear the People Sing”- there are a number of hopeful lyrics- “Even the Darkest Night Will End and the Sun Will Rise”- the final lyrics are “Tomorrow Comes”. To me, this reprise represents heaven.
So you see, tragedies are not just tragic. They go beyond. Tragedies still have certain requirements they need. They always need to have heartbreak and pain. There still needs to death. There needs be comic relief, which gives you a break). Ultimately what needs to happen is the catharsis. If that is missing- then is not truly a tragedy. I would never see a sad show if it is pure sad-those are not my thing. Honestly, give us at least a break and give us that balance between the positive and negative. Les Mis succeed- there is a reason why it is the sensation that it is. I know why, but even I can’t explain.
Musicals have a reputation for being comedies. I did fall in the trap of believing ALL of them were happy and comic. At least, I knew the negative emotions were common- this was back when Wicked was a part of my life- as in pre Les Mis. Just like the negative emotions, positive emotions serve a very important role in musicals.
Think about life in general. What does it consist of? It consists of BOTH positive and negative times. So, having the positive emotions and the negative emotions in one musical keep it strong. Then there’s the obvious concept of believability found in the characters.
In addition, balance is key. A musical would get WAY too extreme if it just had negative emotions. You want a break from those negative emotions. Or just want musicals that are known for just having positive emotions- think Music Man and Mamma Mia: they help balance out musicals that have both sides- the positive and negative. Musicals having their reputation for being comic would usually find a way to provide comic relief- they would not let tragedies literally be filled with just tragic moments and not at least give you a break for once. All musicals I love have their positive emotions- yes even the tragedies. I would not want to go to a musical and discover there isn’t positive emotions period- that would make a musical TOO DEPRESSING: you saw that right.
As a matter of fact, excitement is the strongest emotion in musicals. Your excitement level is one of the emotions as well as the moments in musicals that are meant to be exciting (NOT talking about the moments that are meant to make you feel heartbroken).
So positive and negative emotions are a huge part in telling the story and making it come to life. How would you feel if ALL you are feeling are the negative emotions- that would not be the best feeling. That would make you possibly not want to go back to that musical. While shows like Les Mis are constant heartbreak, there are still positive emotions going on- hope, love, and passion are three examples in that tragedy.
What I am basically saying is you need balance between the positive and the negative emotions or else I feel like the story would fail and the characters’ journeys’ wouldn’t really matter. A good chunk of my favorite musicals have both sides- positive and negative emotions.
It has been known that “nothing beats the power of live theater”. A lot of people do say that wouldn’t it just be easier to just sit down and watch the musical on screen. While a movie musical obviously is less expensive and can be seen more often- a lot of emotion and power and excitement gets lost. Here is how much- A LOT- literally so much that you just want to get back to the theater to see that musical.
So why do I say and many musical theatre fans say “nothing beats the power of live theatre.
1) no show is seen more than once for the same musical- yes even if you end with the same cast
2) the emotion is more amplified due to NOT being on screen but on stage (this is due to a two-way conversation between the audience and the actors- the actors base part of their performance off of the audience, and also due to the atmosphere of the theatre itself: every theatre is different). Due to emotion being amplified, excitement levels get pushed up- which is most notably seen right when you hear the most notes of the orchestra- that level of excitement you feel at the beginning of the musical is built up as the musical continues no matter what emotion you are seeing.
3) Another emotion thing- there is a higher chance you will end up literally getting hit like a pile of bricks; so what I am basically saying is that the negative emotions have a bigger impact in live theater. The negative emotions are there to provide conflict, complexity, and believability, and they are the reason why there even is a story to begin with.
So, while the movie musical is still the musical itself, all you are seeing is the characters on screen. While more realistic, the actors had no audience to rely on, emotion is less amplified so some of the emotions get kind of lost- some emotions only wound up being felt in live theater, and you are watching the same thing over and over again. Why do I say you never see the same thing twice- well, every day, the actors will be different with their characters: they could be interacting with a different actor if their is an understudy or swing on or there could have been a malfunction on stage and it does truly truly truly depend on which audience was there.
The musical theatre world is known to be comical and funny, but also emotional. True, there are a LOT of happy musicals, but there are tragic ones (which I learned the hard way). In middle school, through Wicked, I was able to discover sad- as in it came to the forefront meaning it became a core emotion. I defiantly knew it was common by just ONE musical. So I was able to understand WHY we needed sad in musicals- it was for believability and for a character to become complex; there were some things that were missing that I didn’t realize. At least I understood something- the basic point of sad, and that it existed and was core.
Then, Les Mis entered. I had told myself TRAGEDIES did not exist in musicals. I had told myself emotion couldn’t push past sad- meaning I did not know it could NOT get more devastating then it already was. That basically means I was blind to HEARTBREAK. I had told myself DEATH was unmemorable and that there was no way a song could exist in a death scene. Well, you got all of those disproven in just ONE musical. I had to learn this the hard way. The first time I watched the film- I was shocked and confused, and believe it or not called Les Mis TOO DEPRESSING and did not know if I liked it. I had told myself in high school, I would NEVER love a tragedy- that might be part of why I was having a hard time with Les Mis in the beginning. YES, that was the beginning of my Les Mis journey. December 2012.
March 2013 (I think)- I don’t know why, but I told myself to watch that Les Mis film a 2nd time. This time, by knowing Les Mis was tragic, I was able to calm down. I began to notice something- there was something about the musical that makes it more than tragic. I noticed it strongly at the end- I felt uplifted, but I wanted to know why. I went from calling it too depressing to calling it inspiring and uplifting.
So, the core emotions of sad and heartbreak are meant to be in musicals. There actually are in more musicals then non-musical fans think: Wicked, Newsies, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, South Pacific, Sound of Music, Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, West Side Story, Rent and Les Mis- I intentionally ended with the tragic musicals to show that even happy musicals have sad and tragic moments. Why do you think there has to be sad and heartbreaking moments in musicals?
Well, music is an universal language. Sad and heartbreak are a part of life- those two lead to other emotions. In the musical world- sad and heartbreak are also connected to love. The strongest of musicals have heartbreak in them. Those make the musicals feel more real and complex. If sad and heartbreak did not exist- there would not be conflict in musicals at all. Conflict is the cause of heartbreaking, sad, and tragic events. Think about the love triangles and the tragic love stories- there would have be heartbreak, loneliness, anger and pain or else they would become dry and wouldn’t be needed. The love triangles I love the most are complex, strong, and add texture to those musicals: Phantom of the Opera, Les Mis, and Wicked automatically come to mind.
How would you feel if sad and heartbreak did NOT exist in musicals?