A Night At The Opera (a primer)

Boston Lyric Opera 2010/2012 Season. Puccini's Tosca. Floria Tosca (soprano Jill Gardner) makes a drastic decision to protect herself and her love from Baron Scarpia (bass-baritone Bradley Garvin). Photo by Jeffrey Dunn for Boston Lyric Opera © 2010.

Feature by Gillian Daniels, Interview with Julie House of the Boston Lyric Opera by Becca Kidwell

Opera remains one of the most intimidating arts of western culture.  It’s a beautiful art, though, one where grand epics and tragedies are played out on stage and human stories are set to songs greater and better than the daily drudge of reality.

Yet much more widely embraced among North American theatergoers is the musical, opera that has evolved in the past hundred years with more speaking parts and often more contemporary settings.  Musicals aren’t always lighter fair, but they are seen as more accessible than opera.

“In general, I think people think of operas as being tremendously long, sung in a foreign language, and about stuffy old European stories,” says Julie House of the Boston Lyric Opera (http://blo.org/).  Within the organization, she oversees Opera for Young Audiences.  She works to educate audiences of its importance and beauty.  “[Y]ou do not need any foreknowledge before attending an opera. A good production will provide you with everything you need to feel engaged: strong performers, beautifully played music, and tight-knit action (not just a good fight scene, but every action on stage, even the most subtle).”

“Many people have said they were children when they attended their first opera and were with a parent or grandparent,” she adds. “I believe this is a very common introduction and was probably the case for a lot of our audience.”

Introducing someone young to the breadth and depth of opera appears to be the best possible way to gain a lifelong follower of the form.  As a child, a future actor, actress, or fan has little bias against the stigma of enjoying such a “snooty” or daunting art as opera. It’s much more difficult to gain the interest of an adult.

“Our culture has put a lot of baggage on opera that it doesn’t deserve. At its essence, opera is a story told through music,” Julie continues. “[It contains] love, lies, laughs, deception, and a good amount of sex! […] Spending an evening at the opera is a pretty counter-cultural thing for young people to do, which might be why we’re seeing so much interest in our student subscriptions and events for young people. A night at the opera is a great date!”

Opera should be of keen interest to those looking for a unique evening out.  If all human works are a reflection of the public, than opera shows us the best and darkest of our selves. It’s not only of tremendous artistic importance that we preserve its history, but that we take a chance on seeing it and ask where it fits into the modern cultural zeitgeist.

How many of us were first introduced to opera:

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