Think about what music you especially like and then think about how many live performances you have seen in the last two years. If you are like most people, not many. I think for most of us we have pursued our interest in music mainly by buying albums and listening on the radio, though streaming services, below, are changing that. It is easy, convenient and quite enjoyable. I will tell a story that is a little off the track before returning to the question at hand, namely how to enjoy opera more affordably. I claim the best audio equipment I ever owned was a small table radio with a single four-inch speaker. I think it was the Admiral brand, and I inherited it from an aunt and uncle because it had been dropped and the plastic cover was partly torn off. I was a young teen, growing up in Columbus, GA, and at night in the late fifties I lay awake and listened on local radio stations to the birth of rock and roll. I can’t claim that anything since has sounded quite that good. If the music touches you, it is good no matter how you listen.
Ok, first let’s talk about radio and streaming, both separately and together. I have subscribed to XM/SIRIUS radio, a for pay satellite radio service, for about ten years. When I first developed an interest in opera, my go to channel was Met Opera Radio on XM radio, which broadcasts opera 24/7, a mix of complete operas and single arias. For the last five years when I am in the car, Met Opera Radio is playing; this has been a big part of my listening to opera. Opera-focused stand-alone radio stations that are free are not available in most areas, but if you are in range of a PBS station you can hear the live Saturday afternoon Met Opera radio broadcasts; check here to find the station closest to you. WETA-FM in Washington DC area is a PBS station that also offers an opera at 8 pm feature. Some large cities offer opera stations, like Operavore in New York City.
Computers and mobile electronic devices, smart phones, portable players, and tablets are changing how many, maybe most, of us access music. Couple that with internet streaming services like Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, and others, and we have almost unlimited access to the music of our choosing. Pandora and Spotify offer free versions in addition to commercial-free pay plans. For about $12 a month you can sign up for a streaming service that gives you uninterrupted access to a large share of recorded music. If you buy on the average one album per month, the streaming services are a good value. You can also access opera on radio stations available online from across the U.S. and the world. Even the stand alone radio stations mentioned above are available for listening online. And there are apps to help you. I purchased the TuneIn app and listen to opera radio stations using that app. I remember when I was a teenager I signed up for the Columbia Record Club. I was sent four LP albums for classical music for the promise that I would buy four more albums in the next two years. It was a big step forward, but I was limited in music and rich in time to listen to the albums. Now, the situation has reversed; I am rich in music and limited in time.
I will mention two more ways to access opera affordably. One is YouTube. Sometimes I think you can find almost anything on youtube.com. The sound quality is not always great, but what you can find by searching for your favorite aria, opera, or opera singer can be fun. I use it as an audio encyclopedia. I sometimes like to conduct my own version of The Voice using YouTube. I search on a favorite aria or singer, and see how many notable singers, both current and past, pop up. I can compare the great ones singing the same aria for me. The final method I will list is the good old pubic library. My son is in college now, but just a couple of years ago we were frequent visitors to the public library for his school research and book borrowing. Most libraries now have CD and DVD collections of movies, plays, and music that you can check out. Public libraries are fun to visit and explore at no cost, unless of course you incur late fees for not getting things back on time.
In conclusion, I didn’t actually count the ways, but If you have the opera gene, I hope you will concede that there are many ways to enjoy opera affordably.