Fat people, boring music, stuffy audiences. That’s what opera’s about, right?
Mmm… Not so much. Whilst opera might be an old art form, it has certainly grown with the times and in the last century has seen a massive leap into the world of technology. Still, when you tell someone you’re an opera singer, you’re often met with a face of confusion as if you were some sort of extinct breed that shouldn’t be walking around in 2016.
This week at WAAPA, we have begun rehearsals for our final production of the year, a brand new piece called ‘Opera! The Opera’. While we can’t give much away, we can reveal that the show centres around a man named Brian, who… well, let’s just say, isn’t the biggest fan of opera. While Brian’s story may take an unusual turn, he’s not that different to most reluctant operagoers. That’s why we decided this week would be the perfect time to debunk some all-too-common operatic myths! Perhaps you’ve never seen an opera before and are curious as to what the fuss is about? Or maybe you’re a seasoned opera fan or passionate student trying to explain to Uncle Bob exactly what it is that you study (for the fourth time)? Well read on as we uncover the truth about our favourite art form…
No, Phantom of the Opera is NOT opera. This is a quite common myth and one I know that many have tried to debunk before. But Phantom of the Opera is actually a musical about an opera house, not an opera. Some opera singers get quite cranky with this comparison but hey, if you see Phantom of the Opera, get a taste for opera and decide to come along… The more the merrier!
I won’t understand it. We all know that a lot of operas are in foreign languages. From Italian, French, German, Russian etc. This language barrier can put people off coming to the opera and I get that: Who wants to sit there for 2-3 hours and not understand a word of what’s going on? But of course the power of technology helps you out here. Surtitles are given for audience members to understand the text. Also, the cliché of ‘park and bark’ singing (aka standing there, singing and ‘emoting’) has long been dead and most productions these days place huge demands on singers in terms of acting and physicality. You’re sure not to fall behind in the story when you have someone like Joyce Didonato going mad right in front of you.
It’s full of fat people. Nuh uh. Whilst the stereotypical opera singer is overweight and can barely hold themselves on stage, these days the opera stage is filled with gorgeous people (WHO HAVE INCREDIBLE VOICES!) like this…
… Need I say more?
It’s too expensive. Depending on where you are in the world, opera tickets can vary at many different prices… But just like anywhere, if you keep your eyes open you can find a cheap seat! For anyone under the age of 30, most classical venues are looking for YOU as audiences and will be offering (very) discounted tickets! These will generally be advertised on Facebook or other places online!
You have to dress up. No! These days, your opera attire can be anything from a ball gown to a short and tee shirt. I would recommend following the “no shoes no shirt no service” rule, and I wouldn’t wear anything that you wouldn’t be able to wear out to a pub on St George’s Terrace… But there’s no need to suit up!
…Unless you really want to!
It’s elitist. Whilst the divas (and divos!) that come with this profession are still out there, they’re a dying breed. A lot of opera singers, conductors and managers these days do not think of their art form as elite: We just want to be given a fair go! We are inviting you to come see our shows by putting on new, exciting productions of works. We are not an elite form – just a very old one!
It goes on too long. Whilst some operas go on forever (Hello Götterdämerung – 6 hours and 30 minutes) – most operas don’t! Operas are the original cinema so think of it in the way you might think of a film. Some are short and others feel like they may go on forever. Same thing applies to opera! Before going to an opera, you can check the running time on the website and plan your night accordingly. WA Opera performed Gianni Schicchi as apart Opera in the Park this year, and it only lasted an hour.
It’s not relevant. So you don’t think you relate to contracting tuberculosis and dying? Are you telling me you’re breasts HAVEN’T flown off? (It’s an opera… Don’t judge us). But in all honesty, the operas that we see on the main stages of theatres these days are there because of their relativity to modern society.
I won’t know any of the music. Thanks to the fact that a lot of this music is out of copyright infringement, you will have heard this music over and over again! Whether it be from that McDonald’s Ad, a beer ad or your favourite scene from tv/movies, opera is all around you. I guarantee you will surprise yourself: you will have known this music all your life!
Opera isn’t for young people. What tends to be forgotten is that these works were written BY young people. Mozart died at the age of 33, which means that when he was writing most of his works, he was in his teens through to his late 20s. Puccini was 28 when La Boheme premiered. Bizet was 37 when Carmen was finished. With the exclusion of composers such as R. Strauss and G. Handel (who wrote bloody amazing music as well – just at an older age!), most composers who are writing operas are under the age of 40, relating to the younger demographics… They tell stories of young people and most of these characters are just trying to figure out how to adult. (I know I can relate to that!)
So hopefully this has helped you understand this wonderful art form… Or maybe you leave us even more confused! Whichever one it may be, don’t be afraid of opera! It’s really not a terrifying experience at all. What’s the worst that could happen? You might actually enjoy it!
Written by Katherine Goyder and Emma Ashton