When we hear the word “opera” we think large dramatic sopranos in Viking helmets singing at the top of their lungs, right? At least that’s what I used to think. It wasn’t necessarily the most appealing genre of music, considering I could barely hear what notes they were singing amidst all that vibrato. This was, of course, before I got completely sucked into the world of opera and discovered that in reality, there is so much more to it than the old-fashioned stereotypes. It only took going to see one live opera – needless to say, it was love at first sight.
The world of music is changing at an incredibly fast paced, and opera is miraculously managing to evolve just as fast. Shows are flashier; singers are better looking; and the quality of musical performances is improving. Just to prove a point here, I’ll give you a few examples of the new things I’ve seen that have completely blown my mind.
First, the flashy aspect…
I recently saw Die Walküre at The Metropolitan Opera House. It is a fantastic – and extremely long – opera by Richard Wagner that tells the story of Brünhilde’s disobedience to her father, and consequential punishment. I was thrilled to see what the creative minds at the Met put up on that stage. The scenery was nothing short of breathtaking, with movable set pieces and projectors from every possible angle, creating a versatile set that could transport you to a plethora of “godly” locations in a matter of seconds. This production was so spectacular that it enraptured me for the full 5 hours!
Next, the looks…
Are these opera singers or professional athletes? If you ask any of them, they’ll respond “both”. It does take a lot of physical effort to sing through an entire opera. But in addition to having that stamina, these singers have to maintain a physical appearance that matches that of any singer/dancer on Broadway.
One of the most controversial cases when it comes to this topic is Deborah Voigt’s dismissal from the Royal Opera House. Even though she was one of the top voices at the moment, she was fired for not being able to fit into her costume. Ever since then, she has lost a considerable amount of weight, and is now back on the stage.
Last, but certainly not least, the sound…
Opera has struggled with finding a balance between singing and acting. A few decades ago, it was completely acceptable to “park and bark”. But Maria Callas came about and stole millions of hearts through her acting, sometimes sacrificing her sound. Nowadays, audiences demand both, and as a result, the quality of singing is getting better. Singers are taking a new approach and raising the level of pitch accuracy, and dynamic control. Click on this link to check out Cecilia Bartoli showing off her amazing agility!
As a recent opera lover, my advice to all of you out there who aren’t sure about it is to go and experience a live operatic performance. Go with an open mind, let the music tell you what words cannot, and you’ll be surprised at how enriching this ever-evolving art form can be. After all, “Music takes us out of the actual and whispers to us dim secrets that startle our wonder as to who we are, and for what, whence, and whereto.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson