Another Opera Apologist (Part 1)Op-ed
It’s simple enough: there’s something just neat about it. People are up on stage doing weirdly supernatural things with their voices. Voices of all sizes and shapes, too; beautiful, floating sopranos and, big, hollering baritones. On top of that, a whole hoard of people beneath the opera stage are playing as one, all of them looking up at one special guy with a stick. But most importantly, the music written underneath the words gives us subtext, depth to the story. Music can tell us if someone’s pious, thoughtful, drunk, if lovers are doomed; it’s the equivalent of understanding someone’s joking because you saw a hint of a smile. The product of music and words together is a specific, dramatically nuanced telling of a story; and the cool part is that the best operas make you forget about the lines between talking and singing.
But perhaps it’s true that opera comes with connotations of stuffy old hat ladies and pretentious intermission chat. Don’t get me wrong; opera snobbery is despicable. It’s basically just negative thinking done by people who are less informed than they think they are. Just as bad are those die-hard purists, uppity bores, really; they’re the ones who freak out about new concepts for their favourite opera, or get scared of pants roles with love interests.
But the canon of operatic repertoire needs a fresh set of eyes. The historical significance of, say, Donizetti’s set of three operas about three different queens, is lost on most people. But a great production of Anna Bolena could stand as a riveting piece of drama, even blind to the surrounding history. There remains the offence of great pieces set to bad productions; but, to analogize, you wouldn’t stop watching TV because the Fonz jumped the shark.