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Five operas that led to other things

1. Wagner's four-opera cycle "The Ring of the Nibelungs," based on old Germanic legend, in turn inspired J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings." The center of the story is a ring that bestows tremendous power on whoever possesses it.

2. Mozart's "The Magic Flute" became the basis for the "Star Wars" movie series. The opera is about a prince who falls in love with a princess, has a comic sidekick, and has to deal with the force of darkness (the Queen of the Night in the opera, Darth Vader in "Star Wars"). There are many more parallels. It's fun to figure them out.

3. "Carmen" inspired "Carmen Jones," the passionate 1959 movie with Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte. The 1943 musical that was made into the movie had music by Billy Rose and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. "Carmen Jones" places the story of "Carmen" in an African-American setting, and the idea works out very well.

4. "La Boheme," Puccini's touching story about the aspirations and relationships among four impoverished young artists, inspired "Rent." The heroine of Jonathan Larsen's hit rock opera is Mimi, just like in the Puccini opera. See "La Boheme," and you'll recognize the references to it in "Rent."

5. "Aida," the epic spectacle by Giuseppe Verdi, became the rock opera with music by Elton John. The story's the same. Verdi's opera, though, usually receives a more opulent staging, often with live elephants on stage.

10 opera terms to get you started:

Just like football, ice skating or anything else, opera has its own lingo.

1. Aria: Literally, an air -- in other words, a song an opera character sings to express emotion.

2. Coloratura: The quality of a high, showy soprano voice.

3. Libretto: The words to an opera.

4. Soprano: A woman singer with a high range.

5. Mezzo-soprano: Literally, middle-voiced, meaning a woman singer with a lower range than a soprano. "Mezzo" is pronounced "METS-o."

6. Baritone: A male singer with a voice lower than a tenor but not as low as a bass.

7. Heldentenor: A heroic tenor, specifically in Wagner's romantic operas.

8. Tutti: A passage in opera sung by all. The word means "all" in Italian.

9. Recitative: (RESS-see-tah-TEEV): In 18th century operas -- by Mozart, say -- this term refers to dialogue between arias, sung to the accompaniment of a harpsichord.

10. Bravo: What you shout after an aria if the singer has done a particularly wonderful job. If the singer is a woman, shout "Brava."

5 movies tuned in to opera's greatness:

1. "Moonstruck": In this classic 1987 comedy, the lovebirds played by Cher and Nicolas Cage go to see Puccini's "La Boheme." The soaring, romantic music helps ignite their romantic feelings for each other.

2. "Godfather III": Pietro Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana" is pivotal to this movie. Anthony sings the male lead in the opera at the famed Palermo opera house Teatro Massimo. Interspersed with scenes from the opera are various brutal murders.

3. "Fatal Attraction": In this "married man, beware" thriller, Glenn Close tells Michael Douglas she has two tickets to see "Madama Butterfly" and goes berserk when he says no. Beautiful excerpts from Puccini's smoldering opera add subtly to the tension.

4. "Hannah and Her Sisters": Woody Allen's tender romantic comedy shows us Dianne Wiest meeting a tantalizing guy, who takes her on a dream date to the Metropolitan Opera to see "Manon Lescaut," by Puccini. As they're sitting in their seats, he opens a bottle of champagne. It's tremendously romantic, and you can't blame her for the longing in her eyes.

5. "A Room With a View." In this dreamy movie, Helena Bonham-Carter plays a young woman falling in love in Florence. Adding to the atmosphere are arias from Puccini's operas "Gianni Schicchi" and "La Rondine."

4 operas to see at Glimmerglass Opera

Glimmerglass Opera is located in Cooperstown. All four operas are on stage through August. Call (607) 547-2255 or check out the Web site

1. "Orpheus in the Underworld," by Jacques Offenbach: This light-hearted opera -- touched with darkness, in that surreal way that Offenbach liked -- contains the famous can-can often used in movies and cartoons. Don't worry, you'll recognize it.

2. "Orphee et Eurydice," by Christoph Willibald Gluck, arranged by Hector Berlioz. When Gluck wrote this masterpiece in 1774, Orpheus was sung by a castrato -- a male singer castrated to preserve his high voice. Berlioz, in 1859, altered the opera so the role could be sung by a woman.

3. "L'Orfeo," by Claudio Monteverdi. Unbelievably, this opera marks its 400th anniversary this year. Yet it sounds fresh. Several performances are already sold out. Glimmerglass points out that the opera is "brimming with a lively musical language that gave birth to the Baroque era."

4. "Orfee," by Philip Glass. Glass was inspired by a Jean Cocteau film to write this opera about Orpheus, who stands for all artists. July 31 will bring a free Q&A session with Glass, who turns 70 this year.

3 operas to see at the Chautauqua Opera:

For information, call 357-6286 or go to the Web site and click on "opera."

1. "Carmen," by Georges Bizet. Monday at 7:30 p.m. A drama about a love triangle involving a Spanish femme fatale, an army officer and a bullfighter, "Carmen" is one of the most performed operas of all time. You'll recognize the "Habanera" and the "Toreador Song."

2. "Werther," by Jules Massenet. Aug. 3 and 6 at 7:30 p.m. Everyone loves a sad love story, and this is a dandy. In the early 1800s, the German writer Goethe published "The Sorrows of the Young Werther," a wildly popular novel about a young poet who kills himself because he loves a woman whose mother makes her marry someone else. In Massenet's sensitive adaptation, the ending is tragic but beautiful.

3. "Once Upon a Mattress." Aug. 17 and 20 at 7:30 p.m.; Aug. 19 at 2 p.m. Opera and musical theater aren't that far apart, as Chautauqua reminds us by ending its season with this 1959 hit Broadway spoof of "The Princess and the Pea." The music is by Mary Rodgers, the daughter of Richard Rodgers. Chautauqua Opera chief Jay Lesenger says Ms. Rodgers is planning to come to the show.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

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