Why opera fans love to name-drop From top left: Joyce DiDonato (Pari Dukovic), Jonas Kaufmann, Sonya Yoncheva (Gregor Hohenberg/Sony), Ellen's 2014 mega-selfie.

Why opera fans love to name-drop

Jenna Simeonov

Every time an opera company makes a season announcement, it predictably includes a whole lot of name dropping. Hardcore fans whip themselves into a frenzy when their favourite singers are set to perform, be it in something familiar (like when Sondra Radvanovsky sings a Donizetti Queen), or something new (like when Gerald Finley announced he would be singing Verdi’s Falstaff).

To the less hardcore fans, it may seem an in-crowd, totally nerdy reason to get excited.

Christine Goerke is doing Brünnhilde in my home town?? or, Alice Coote is singing a female role??! or, They got Ferruccio Furlanetto to do Don Basilio?!?!

These are all really weird, niche reasons to get excited about an opera, especially if the opera itself isn’t new. Amongo our own friends, the word combinations like “Camarena + Verdi”, or “DeShong + Rossini”, or “Kaufmann + Wagner” tend to be failsafe ways of stirring up giddy excitement. It happens with directors and composers, too; names like Franco Zeffirelli, Richard Jones, and Robert Lepage all hold weight, and new operas by Kevin Puts and Thomas Adès are big news. Call it nerdy if you want, but allow us to make the very easy analogy by dipping into the world of film:

For many people, hearing the words “new Tom Hanks movie” are enough to sell tickets and stir up hype. The words “Johnny Depp cameo” certainly pique interest, just as would the words “Christian Bale musical” (could you imagine?). There are film lovers who will see anything that’s made by the Coen brothers, or by Martin Scorsese, or by Kevin Smith, or with Jane Lynch in it.

There are names that signal a memorable character; if you hear that Christoph Waltz is in a new film, you’re likely curious to see his latest mix of psychopathy and vigilantism. Kathy Bates is in a new show? Hooray! We love Kathy Bates. Fans know that they’ll get charming neuroticism from anything with Woody Allen’s name on it, and dizzying nausea watching anything by Darren Aronofsky (shudder).

And if Samuel L. Jackson is in a movie by Quentin Tarantino, you’re likely going to come out of it with some memorable lines. (”It’s the one that says ‘bad motherfucker on it.”)

Basically, if we were to tell you that Terrence Malick has made a new Netflix miniseries starring Meryl Streep and John C. Reilly, and that it was written by JJ Abrams, and that it features cameos by Alan Rickman, Uzo Aduba, and (maybe?) Stan Lee, you’d go see it, right?

That’s sort of how opera fans feel when they hear about Ailyn Pérez taking on the title role of Thaïs at the Metropolitan Opera, or when Robert Carsen directs Der Rosenkavalier; it’s why it’s exciting to hear name combinations like “Lawrence Brownlee + Charlie Parker”, or “Bryn Terfel + Hans Sachs”. It’s like when they announce a new Batman or James Bond: everyone knows who Batman and James Bond are, but it’s going to be a bit different with each actor.

If opera fans seek out Diana Damrau, they’re eager to hear crystal-clear coloratura; but if they’re after Audrey Luna, they’re likely to get impossibly high notes and crazy new operas. The likes of Sonya Yoncheva or Kristine Opolais will bring you expansive, top-notch singing of opera’s best heroines. If there’s a role being played by someone like Thomas Allen, that bodes well for the whole production (like Leonardo DiCaprio, Allen can afford to be choosy with his work). Directors like Robert Carsen mean stunning architecture, Barrie Kosky will make your eyes pop, and Christopher Alden always adds a big dollop of crazy to his productions.

So, while opera fans do love them some name-dropping, there’s a reason behind it that’s more interesting than proving that you know who’s who. It’s about getting hints on what to expect onstage, and predicting whether or not the latest soprano to sing Tosca will be like the Christian Bale Batman, or the George Clooney Batman.

Readers, who are your no-questions-asked singers? What operas would you love to hear them in? Let us know in the comments below!

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