Last Friday, I found myself with a desperate yen to go to the opera and without a soul to go with me. Many of my friends already had normal people plans. And there were some I didn’t want to ask because I knew they would rather go to any other kind of musical event besides the opera.
Alas! Opera is not exactly an art form that attracts many patrons under the age of sixty-five. But opera does have much to offer. Many of the genre’s best motifs and melodies are staples of our pop culture, be it the Lone Ranger madly galloping through a canyon to the overture from William Tell or the famous Toreador earworm from Bizet’s Carmen.
Here are my reasons anyone should be happy to take me to opera.
1. The opera offers a marvelous excuse to get glamorous. In a culture where many are content to wear denim to weddings and flip-flops to the office, it is nice to take advantage of an opportunity to dress-up. Let your inner diva be your guide; you will be in good company.
Dahling, you simply must wear those heels! By all means, say, “YES” to the rhinestones–they are so you! White tie? Why not? That shade? Go more dramatic for the opera, mon cherie. And if you can’t bring that sequined clutch to the opera, dahling, where on earth can you bring it?
When it comes to the opera, go big or stay home.
2. Speaking of going big, nothing at the opera is small—which brings me to point two: operatic music is Olympic in proportion.
On Friday, I attended The Barber of Seville, a comic opera (or opera buffa) about a Sevillian barber who is also the town’s handyman, surgeon, match-maker, and secret-keeper. In the breakneck-paced piece de resistance “Largo al Factotem,” Figaro explains how he manages to solve problems with style (and the musician shows us his skill). The hearty baritone voice tripped sure-footedly over the infamously difficult libretto with an astonishing speed and force that reached all the way back to the nosebleeds.
There is nothing small about Figaro. Like opera, he is big and loud, with an enormous ego to boot. He does and sings the most difficult things with sprezzatura, the ability to make something difficult look easy.
Let’s get real here: opera music is not easy. Opera singers use no microphones. Only assisted by the stellar acoustics of a large opera house, these champs act their guts out and simultaneously raise their melodies to the loftiest of rafters. Sometimes they tote oversized props and wear big costumes so the people sitting close to those rafters can see what is going on as well as hear it.
By intermission, last Friday night’s Figaro had worked up quite a sweat. But his reddening face beamed beneath his wig. Like an athlete who had “effortlessly” stuck a landing, he took a bow. Bravo Bravissimo!
3. In a Guardian article, Kaspar Holten, director of the Royal Opera Company, explains what has always attracted me but I couldn’t quite articulate: opera gives the dramatic height, breadth, and length that human emotions deserve. Or, as Holten eloquently states,
In opera we spend time on what matters in life: the big emotional peaks and abysses. Opera is the world’s first multimedia. Through the combination of music and theatre, we can identify with characters, but then . . . stop time and explore these moments further through music and movement, finding a language for the emotions it can be difficult to talk about, although they define our lives.
Sometimes language is not even needed in scenes of despair or passion. While studying abroad, I went to see Puccini’s Tosca where even the subtitles weren’t in English. The heroine’s main squeeze, Mario, sang an aria sometimes described as the saddest song ever written. “E Lucevan le Stele” opened with a lonely clarinet piping one of Puccini’s expressive melodic lines. Mario began quietly, almost conversing with the clarinet. He escalated, the strings joined his despair, and the short aria ended in a quiet, but mighty descent, low and pensive. Tragedy lingered on every note. The words didn’t matter at all—and my words can’t do it justice.
Last Friday, a friend stopped studying for her finals and graciously accompanied me to the opera. We slapped on some heels and lipstick and had a grand old time. It was her first opera, and I think she liked it. But really, dahling, what is not to like?
Love, hate, jealousy, revenge, contentment, desire, despair, joy, curiosity, confidence, fear, and the complex shades of emotion in between are all given voice in opera—loud, clear, and soaring voice, a voice at which to marvel, a voice to remember, and a voice that reminds us what it means to be human.
After a trial-by-fire year as public school substitute teacher and fly-by-night freelancer, Julia will shed the tribulations of the work-world to embark on a MA in art history and museum studies at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH. If you are in town, she’ll gladly take you to a local museum. She enjoys walks, leopard print, and good conversation.