• Why I’m Studying Librarianship

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    Why on earth, some people might ask, is a passionate opera lover with a BA in Music History studying librarianship? Why didn’t I try to become a Music History professor, or an author of books about opera?


    Because I wouldn’t be a passionate opera lover if not for libraries. I’ve written about that fact before (see “Opera at the Library: My Tribute”). Ever since I first discovered opera, libraries have been my main recourse for sound recordings, videos, DVDs, and books of all kinds that provide insight into the world of opera and classical music. Not to mention the educational Opera Talks that my local libraries present every year in tandem with the LA Opera’s season, culminating in an end-of-season concert featuring singers from their Young Artist program.


    I still don’t fully know what it’s like to be a librarian. I don’t know everything that studying librarianship will entail. I’m just getting started. But I’d love to spend my life helping library visitors find the wealth of passion-cultivating information that I have. If I can, I’d love to help a library expand its collection of opera- and classical music-related books, film and recordings, and to help promote that material. I’d love to be able to guide people with passions like mine to the exact types of books and information they’re looking for, both with the help of technology and with any knowledge of my own that goes beyond what computers know – this is why the idea of working for a school or university library appeals to me. I’d love to promote and take part in music education programs within the library, like the Opera Talks I’ve grown up with. I’d love to bring Opera Quest, the opera education program I’ve created for children, into at least one library, which I hope my degree will help me do. I’d love to eventually write books about opera music history, but not rely on them as an income source, and have them become part of the collection of the library where I work.


    In spite of all the music- and opera-history classes I took at Santa Monica College and UCLA, libraries have been the real source of my knowledge and passion, more than academia ever has been. By studying librarianship and hopefully finding a career in it, I hope I can help keep that source of knowledge and passion alive and strong for everyone. I hope I can play a part in helping people find their passion and identity through library resources just like I did.

    • Hi Pamina,

      I was wondering if I could get your opinion on this.

      Here is an excerpt from the book Opera’s First Master – The Musical Dramas of Claudio Monteverdi:

      “Over the years performers and critics have likened Monteverdi’s operatic genius to that of Mozart, Wagner and Verdi, the supreme masters of the genre. Nevertheless, the respect Monteverdi’s operas enjoy is far removed from the near universal love those later masters receive. In the opera houses of the United States and even Europe, Monteverdi remains a chilly icon more than a beloved figure. One noted critic has stated that:

      “Monteverdi has still, nearly a century after his first modern performances, to establish his centrality for those calling themselves opera goers. By no stretch of the imagination can one speak of Monteverdi as a ‘popular’ composer even in the late 1990′s“


      What do you think accounts for this?

      Does it have to do with the fact that L’Orfeo, The Return of Ulysses and The Coronation of Poppea are largely based on extended recitative, the sparest, most sophisticated of forms?

      Is this the main reason his operas haven’t really gained wider currency or is it something else?

      • Yes, I think the predominance of recitative is a big factor. Audiences raised on Verdi, Puccini, Wagner, Mozart and bel canto want opera to be tuneful. Monteverdi’s work is genius, but it isn’t always easy listening. Besides, his music requires an intimate, delicate sound compared to the Classical and Romantic opera that makes up the standard repertoire. “L’Orfeo” was first performed in a palace room, while the other two premiered in a theatre with just 900 seats – I don’t think they’re very well suited to big modern opera houses.

        • Pamina and Gwendolyn,

          There are a lot of reasons for the comparative unpopularity of Monteverdi’s operas, including the one you mention — that recitative is dominant. Hence there are very few striking melodies. Pur ti miro, pur ti godo from Poppea delights the audience because of the sheer relief of a beautiful melody and a properly worked out duet – and causes them to overlook the loathsomeness of the characters who are singing it. And in comparison, of course, Orfeo is not only austere, but also imbued with a ritualistic quality that modern audiences find difficult to digest.

          It is also the case that Monteverdi didn’t in any way go overboard in scoring the operas, and left much of them with a figured bass accompaniment: so they need a certain amount of reconstruction. He clearly didn’t intend the massive effects that he provides for his sacred music, but intended them for an intimate setting.

          Mozart, Wagner and Verdi saw opera has a huge, all-involving public event, in Wagner’s case a religious event, in which all stops could be pulled out, and indeed should be pulled out in the interests of the drama.

          So inevitably, it seems to me, Monteverdi, for all his historical and artistic importance, will never be as popular as his successors.

    • It’s always interesting to find out how someone found their passion – thank you for sharing your story! Here’s to hoping you’ll be able to help others find theirs one day! 🙂

    • Hi Pamina! I am one of your classmates from 200. I don’t know anything about opera, but I would like to 😀 I was wondering if you could offer any suggestions for someone who is completely clueless?

      • Hi Courtney! For starters, I recommend you head to the library and see what kind of opera materials they have there. There are quite a few books designed to help introduce people to opera: Peter Fox Smith’s A Passion for Opera” is a good one, as are Pil G. Goulding’s “Ticket to the Opera” and M. Owen Lee’s The Operagoers Guide.. I only wish I had the one that I’m writing, The Opera Experience, published already!

        Then I’d recommend checking out a DVD of an opera performance. For a first-timer, I recommend any of the top 7 most frequently performed:

        Verdi’s La Traviata: A romantic tragedy that bares a striking resemblance to the movie Moulin Rouge! but without the pop music. Most women I know tend to cite this as their favorite opera.
        Bizet’s Carmen: A fiery tragedy set in Spain, depicting a fiercely independent gypsy woman and the soldier who becomes obsessed with her – you’ll recognize a lot of popular tunes in this one.
        Puccini’s La Bohéme: Another romantic tragedy that bares a striking resemblance to Moulin Rouge! – that movie is a loving ripoff of both this one and Traviata.
        Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute): A fantasy opera full of fairy-tale charm, as well as a rich allegory for the Enlightenment and the values of Freemasonry – my own first opera (it’s where the name “Pamina” comes from) and a great choice for both adults and kids.
        Puccini’s Tosca: A tragedy (or, as one critic famously put it, a “shabby little shocker”) set in Rome, revolving around a fiery opera singer and her struggle with an evil chief of police.
        Puccini’s Madama Butterfly: A tragedy of a young Japanese girl’s doomed love for a fickle American naval officer – not the most politically correct opera, but it still packs an emotional punch.
        Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville): A hilarious comedy in which two lovers and their crafty barber friend scheme to stop the girl’s crotchety old guardian from marrying her.

        Of course, if you can see one of those operas live, even better.

        I’d also recommend going on Amazon and ordering the CD “Stand-Up Opera” by B.J. Ward. It’s both informative and absolutely hilarious.

    • Hi Jordan,
      Thanks for the comment on my blog about my introduction. I have heard from several people that my name was a character in an opera. When my wife and I finally go to the beautiful Boston Opera House, that will be the first opera we will see. And good luck on pursing the music librarianship field, I think you will be great at it.

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