Carla Thelen Hanson

Never been to an opera? No problem.

Rochester soprano Carla Thelen Hanson, along with fellow soprano Ann Simerlink and accompanist Ainhoa Urkijo, is sharing her passion for opera with the people as they kick off the Lunch & Learn series this Friday. The nine-month lunch series organized by the Rochester Music Guild gives music lovers a chance to expand their horizons.

Thelen Hanson admits that her path to opera wasn't obvious. She said she originally wanted to be a veterinarian but after auditioning and receiving a full-ride college scholarship, Thelen Hanson dropped her biology major, studied music, and "never looked back."

The piece that won her the scholarship? She'll be performing it Friday with Ann Simerlink as part of the Lunch & Learn event. (A song from Italian musical composer Antonio Vivaldi's "Gloria.")

What is opera? How do you explain it to people who have never been to an opera performance?

It is classical music. Typically, when we are talking about classical music - it is art music.

It is art music that typically has a fuller structure than something that is like pop music … and the chord progressions tend to be a little bit bigger, and the drama tends to be a little bit bigger.


Carla Thelen Hanson

To me, opera is the perfect play with music that guides the action. The difference between a musical and an opera would be that a musical could stand by itself without the music, but in an opera, the music is the play.

How do you make something like that – usually in another language – accessible?

I think there is a misconception about what opera is - that it is just a bunch of chubby people singing with a huge wobble in their voices. I equate classical music with cheese. I know that's really weird. Like a really sharp cheese. Some people love it instantly. Some people, no matter how many times they try it, they are not going to like it. But most of us really have to learn about it. That is kind of what these Lunch and Learn series are about. It’s a cool series because a good lecturer is going to help you understand and listen to things a little differently than maybe you've listened to do it before. Hopefully Ann and I will do our job that way.

I disliked opera – or I had a preconceived idea of what opera was – before I started to study it. And what I really recognized was that I really just hated bad singing or bad playing. It wasn’t the art form itself. Not all operas all the same. If you see one and you dislike it, it doesn’t mean you are going to dislike another one, so you really should try different composers and listen to different things.

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