Opera shows, the music is the driving force of the story and the drama. While musical theatre tells the story through the words, opera lets the melodies guide the audience’s emotions. As such, it is incredibly nuanced and powerful. It is also why you can enjoy opera even when the words are sung in a foreign language – the music is doing their job anyway. With just a rough idea of what’s going on, you can be swept along by the swell of melody. But don’t worry; you can also know what’s being sung as well! In recent decades most opera productions have incorporated subtitles into their performances, either at in-seat monitors or projected discretely above the stage.
It could be argued that opera singers are the best in the world. Sure, pop, rock, rap and musicals have their own demands and pleasures, but opera singers sing technically complex, challenging songs, often in a foreign language – with no microphones! It is just the power of their vocal chords. In musical theatre, amplification is used to fill the space with sound, but in opera it is done just with human skill, and the singers take the human voice to the limits of its possibilities. You have to admire the training and dedication that goes into doing that, particularly as they are doing while acting as well!
Operas deal with fundamental human dramas. They dramatise betrayals, broken hearts, reconciled love, revenge, courage and a whole host of other emotions. The fact that many operas have consistently been performed over decades and sometimes centuries suggests that their themes are universal human ones.
Opera doesn’t hold back. Most opera productions are lavish affairs that can take your breath away with the scale and creativity that has been put into it. It’s not just the principal singers, but there will usually be a chorus of other singers whose voices join to create huge waves of melody, and as many as seventy musicians in the orchestra. But, even more, there are a whole host of creative people paying intimate attention to every aspect of the performance to make it aesthetically pleasing, from make-up and costumes to scenery and backdrops. Very few people come out of the opera anything other than awed by the artistic effort that’s gone into the experience. And, furthermore, just going to the opera is a different experience from that of other art forms. The grand theatres, the sense of occasion, no one singing along allows you to get transported by the show. And these days, you can get tickets at a reasonable price. So, why not give opera a go? You might well be amazed.