Is not opera really just for high brows and people who want to be identified as “cultured"? Isn't opera just for rich people? Don't you have to be musically-inclined to enjoy opera? These questions touch on a lot of issues confronting opera today, but for this blog post let me just say the answer to all three questions is no. I think a lot of people who don’t care for opera suspect that hardly anyone really likes opera and mainly they want to be seen with the wealthy, intellectual, artsy crowd that they believe attends opera performances. Not true. I listen to opera just about every time I am in my car and nobody but me knows what I am listening to. To anyone attending opera for purposes of ego or networking, good luck to you and thanks for supporting the arts; I hope you do have things in your life you really enjoy. But in my experience the applause at performances is genuine; certainly mine is. And folks, the average opera fan really likes this stuff. For me Anna Netrebko (did you see her in Macbeth?), Kathleen Battle (my personal favorite voice), Jonas Kaufman (a guy's tenor, maybe leading tenor today), and Luciano Pavarotti (the one and only, though only on recordings now) are right up their in terms of my enjoyment with Taylor Swift (today's luminary), Diana Ross (yesterday's luminary), Johnny Cash (I grew up in Georgia), and Eminem (everybody has a dark side). Yes, I enjoy opera and pop music differently, but I enjoy both.
Do you have to be rich to support an interest in opera? No, you don’t. You can come from any background or station in life and enjoy opera. I recently had a young attendant at a McDonald’s drive through window ask me what I was listening to in my car. He smiled; he liked it. Opera connects with something in your soul that has nothing to do with how you earn your living. But attending opera is not cheap either. In “Opera for Dummies,” Pogue and Speck point out that opera is the plural of the Latin word, “opus” which means work; so opera means works, which they interpret as "the works." With opera you get a plot, acting, singing by main characters and choruses, dancing, costumes, staging, and an orchestra all in one performance. All the folks involved have to be paid a living wage; so opera productions are inherently expensive. On the other hand, how cheap is your average concert or sporting event these days? And your pursuit of any interest will be bounded by the funds and time available. I plan to devote some effort in future blog posts to exploring the cheapest ways to take in opera in the mid-atlantic region. And there is radio and a wealth now of recorded opera and dvds and public television and youtube. We’ll explore those also, but there is nothing like live opera!
Do you have to have musical ability or training to enjoy opera? No, you don’t. If you did, I wouldn't have gone near it. But learning more about any topic can increase your appreciation and enjoyment of it. We’ll explore that too.
Don't let a perceived elitism or hoity-toity of opera scare you off. Bottom line is that if you like it, great. If you don’t, then pursue the interests you do like. But I urge you give opera a chance. Listen to some. Attend one. If it doesn't take the first try, give it another shot or two down the road. It might grow on you, or you might find that it is just your thing. You, too, might have the opera gene, waiting to blossom. Then you can get down with "just folks" like me and groove on opera.