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Can You Learn to Like Opera?

As a former opera singer, I have on countless occasions found myself
in the same conversation: the subject of opera comes up somehow (as it
often does with me), and then the person I’m talking to crinkles their
nose and tells me they don’t really like opera. However, when I ask the
person how many operas they’ve been to in order to make this judgment,
the answer is almost always the same — zero. It’s truly baffling, the
percentage of people who will claim to dislike something they’ve never
even experienced.


Opera as an art form is nothing like the stereotype of fat women in
viking hats warbling at top volume until glass shatters. In reality, it
encompasses a wide range of styles and variations, and some of them
barely resemble each other at all. Modern operas, for instance, can
often be difficult to understand musically if you are not familiar with
contemporary classical music, but the trade-off is that they are
frequently sung in English, which can alleviate much of the confusion.
On the other side of the spectrum, Classical or Baroque operas generally
feature accessible melodies and probably even some familiar tunes, but
they are typically sung in languages other than English, often Italian
or German. These days, most theatres provide screens above the stage
with supertitles in English, but even in the rare case that no
supertitles are available, usually the storylines are so simple and the
acting so clear that it’s obvious what is going on within the tale.

A night at the opera is nothing like watching opera on television or
listening to it on a CD, though those things can supplement your
experience after the performance. Going to the opera is an event in
itself, where you have the opportunity to dress up and be fancy for a
change. You can buy a program and read the synopsis before the
performance starts, so that you are better familiar with what to expect.
It’s likely you’ll be able to feel the excitement in the hall as the
musicians get ready and the first act is about to begin. It’s a
wonderful experience to see people singing live, and especially so with
opera, since even in this age of technology, most opera singers still
perform without the support of microphones or amplification. They rely
solely on the power in their bodies to carry their voices to the back of
the auditorium. It’s truly something to behold.

Not all operas are serious, dramatic affairs. Some of my favorite
operas are grand comedies, perhaps a bit silly by today’s standards, but
nonetheless fun and easy to follow. You can keep up with your local
opera house’s schedule online, and do some quick research on the
internet to learn which operas you might be interested in and which ones
you might leave for next time. You can take a lot of the anxiety and
guesswork out by knowing what you’re getting into ahead of time. It’s
okay if you spoil the end of the story for yourself before you go — most
operas have very predictable endings anyway, or are based on classic
stories that you’re probably already familiar with. The point is not so
much the story in the opera, but the opera within the story. If you
know the plot already, you can sit back and watch it unfold, while
enjoying some incredibly spectacular singing.

So my advice is this: if you are convinced you hate opera but have
never been to one, do yourself a favor and book some tickets. Go with a
friend or loved one, and choose something accessible and fun —
Rossini’s The Barber of Seville is always a good starting point
for newbies. The worst thing that can happen is that you find out it
really isn’t for you, but at least you’ll have given it a shot, and I’d
bet the farm you’ll actually discover that you and opera have more in
common than you would like to believe. Give it a try — you might just
surprise yourself by having fun.

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