History of Opera Is Told Through 1704 Bass

Troy Cornell

On a quiet Saturday afternoon, the sounds of a peaceful, timeless instrument soothed opera lovers and opera newcomers alike.

David Young, the principle bass for the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra, spoke at the Brand Library on March 14 and conveyed his message through his 305-year-old bass, an instrument which has played its way through the beginnings of opera in the 16th century.

A self-proclaimed “caretaker” for his precious bass, Young played excerpts from Wagner’s Ring and works by George Frederick Handel in an intoxicating hour-long insight into the world of opera from a bassist’s point of view.

Young, who was first lured into music by the flute, was led down a slightly different path when he was a 6-year-old boy growing up on a farm near Chicago.

“I went up to my teacher and said ‘I want to play the flute.’ She looked me, she looked at my hands and said ‘Oh no, you’re the bass player- go over there,'” said Young.

“It wasn’t before long when I was mowing her lawn, washing her windows and taking lessons at her house. I was hook, line, and sinker for it.”

The bass, more often than not, gets overshadowed by its smaller, more energetic cousin, the violin. However, the bass has been the main instrument in setting the scene for some of William Shakespeare’s most memorable scenes.

In the opera version of “Othello,” the bass played a vital role as a mood setter in the last act, which saw Othello at the peak of his madness, enter Desdemona’s bedroom and proceed to take her life.

Although opera and opera music as a whole does not have the following of the likes of Lady Gaga or Bruce Springsteen, there are still many fans who cherish the beauty and liveliness of the genre and who help the music to live on and from these people, Young suggests, one can learn much about a genre of music that has done battle with time itself.

Young and the rest of the LA Opera can be found at the Music Centre’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. Young is there practicing every Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Currently the L.A. Opera is playing music from Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” (The Ring Cycle) ], including “Das Rheingold” and “Die Walkure.” Performance times, dates, and tickets for “Das Rheingold” and “Die Walkure” can be found on the L.A. Opera Web site at www.laopera.com.