Image: La Traviata / Francisco Peralta Torrejón / Wikimedia Commons
I sat by one of my best friends at the movies a few weeks ago while a pre-roll for the Metropolitan Opera’s cinema series played. I turned to her and asked, “have you ever been to the opera?” She shook her head and screwed up her face, “I don’t really think I’d like it,” she said.
I can see why. When most people think of opera they think of big warbling voices singing songs in foreign languages. Overblown drama and weird costumes. Moody divas and arrogant tenors who strut around the stage. Elitism, pretentiousness and an artform that appears to take itself very serious (which, to be fair, it kind of does).
Behind all of the caricatures, pomp and funny-sounding voices is a miracle of human physicality. Although those wobbly notes may sound downright weird when you’re not used to them, amazing things are happening inside the bodies of the singers to produce those sounds. Opera is like the extreme mountaineering of singing. It’s freaking hard to sing like that.
And then there’s the orchestra. If you’ve never been in the same room with a full orchestra, the sheer magnitude of the sound will blow you away. With 70+ musicians working together in synchronicity, the orchestra provides the light and shade to accompany what’s going on onstage. If the singers are the storytellers, the orchestra provides the illustrations.
The stories themselves are pretty good too. From the tragic love stories of Tosca and La Traviata to a cockerel that pecks a king to death (in Rimsky Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel) and a man who gives birth to 40,049 children in one day to make up for a female baby-making strike (in Les Mamelles de Tirésias), there truly is an opera for everyone.
If nothing else, going to the opera provides an excuse to dress up, sit back and be carried away by an artform that makes no apologies for its heightened drama, grandeur and sometimes, plain ridiculousness.