Picture this: you’re a classical singer of any walk of life, be you beginner or seasoned professional, and someone who doesn’t know you particularly well asks you what you do. You want to be taken seriously, or you’re very definite about your career and you respond with a very proud “I’m a (classical/opera) singer”, and then they look at you funny and respond excitedly, but often naively with various words of wisdom.
Honestly if I get told to go on The Voice one more time I might actually resort to violence.
But, this is the world we face! How can we expect to draw audiences and convince friends, partners, lovers and neighbours to come watch us express our craft, if they for starters don’t understand what the hell we are doing? If you’re a specialist in Opera, it’s usually not all that hard to start with crossover “Popera” artists and then move on from there. But what happens if your specialty does not lie in verismo opera, the gateway drug to the Opera Universe? How do you kindly explain that you’re a lyric contralto with a high extension that specialises in the early music of Steve Reich? Or more seriously, that you probably will never have the bust, or the vocal stamina to sing several Brunhilde’s a week? The answer is… you probably can’t explore all the nuances and secret depths of classical music in one short conversation, even though often it is much too easy to get stuck in stereotypes and back yourself into a corner that it is hard to escape from. However, that said, there are a couple of ways to fix this.
- Take your friend, partner, lover, neighbour or parent to see an Operatic Work. It doesn’t have to be good! They don’t even have to like it! Classical music can be a challenge if the people listening for the first time are used to music being presented in the idiom of… post pop punk. This doesn’t mean abandoning them to Parsifal in their first sitting of course. If you have the option, try and start them somewhere easy, like verismo. You’d be amazed at how much easier it is to understand La Boheme than perhaps Le Grand Macabre (Then again maybe you wouldn’t). Afterwards, talk it through with them, hopefully their first statement won’t be something about how dull they found it, and if it is, try and find out what they struggled with. It could be something as simple as the length, the production or the story line.
- Discuss the work you do with people and share recordings of your singing if you have them. People who are interested enough or friendly enough to want to know about your life most probably want to support you in your endeavours, and they are more likely to want to listen and understand your genre if they get to hear YOU perform. Parents can often be easily talked into coming to your recital, especially if they’ve heard you rehearsing. Close friends might take a bit more work, try and engage them with interesting facts about the works, the composers, what you’ve done to prepare, the gown you’ll be wearing… Whatever works!
- Find excellent recordings of favourites, such as the flower duet from Lakme and then maybe suggest things they might also like. So for the flower duet from Lakme, maybe try showing them the flower duet from Madama Butterfly, or the Bell song from Lakme. The more you can share your joy and passion for these works, the more that they will hopefully get involved.
- Through the magic of YouTube we have weird videos made by opera singers. Tumblr has created Mean Girl’s quotes superimposed on screenshots of opera productions. New small works are being created every day for a modern consumer of social media. Try and use these to enthuse younger generations of friend’s who maybe didn’t have the benefit of previous generations still loving classical music.
These are just a couple of interesting suggestions, we’d love to hear some of your own for introducing the magic of opera to people. Without people that love our work, we will have no work!
Written by Ry Charleson