A barricade currently stands between Opera and other art forms; as a society, we appear to find Opera unacceptable, elitist and perhaps not relevant. To begin breaking through this barrier, a few misconceptions regarding Opera must first be clarified.
Opera can be described as the culmination of art forms; the combination of music, drama, film, dance and art (set design and costume). The emotional power of the music, the visual spectacle of the performance and the challenge of individual perceptions often have the ability to overwhelm the viewer through simply watching an operatic performance.
The subject matter an Opera deals with is often the fundamental issue regarding its continuity. Relevant libretto has the ability to create a timeless narrative that can be understood and interpreted in differing ways. When a production of an early historical event is brought into the Twentieth century, Opera brings a new sense of relevance to a situation and can be understood by different audiences. Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots is a classic example by Deutsche Oper Berlin, where the director transported the Catholic/Protestant conflict, into a German/Jewish context in the Twentieth century.
Opera is often written in the language of the composer, i.e. the Ring Cycle is written in Wagner’s mother-tongue language, German. But fear not; venues are equipped with screen translations for those members of the audience who want to understand what the singer’s are singing. In addition, some companies, for instance English National Opera, perform all productions in English translations.
Opera is probably more mainstream than you may realize. It has become integral to the commercial market; from adverts (Gocompare.com, performed by Welsh Tenor, Wynne Evans) to the pop mainstream (Nessun Dorma, performed by Andrea Bocelli, originally from Turandot by Puccini). You may also remember watching the Looney Tunes’ Rabbit of Seville (1950), with a seven-minute animation clip based entirely on the opera Barber of Seville by Rossini, or indeed watching Apocalypse Now (1979), with helicopters preparing to attack a Vietnamese village while Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walkure is projected as background music.
The misconceptions and prejudices towards Opera stem from a divided class in society. Until the previous century, Opera was regarded as an elitist art form, requiring wealth and status to be accepted into the event.
Opera is no longer an elitist event in the sense of how it was previously portrayed. Yes, it still attracts many wealthy individuals who frequently attend, but often these individuals are supporting Opera houses to maintain and finance their seasons. The dynamics of the audience are also shifting, appealing to a younger audience who are passionate about the art form; English National Opera are seeing an increase in their under-44 audience from 30% to 40% over the 2012-2013 season as a result.
Opening night performances are guaranteed to be expensive at the largest Opera houses. However ticket prices have become notably cheaper over the past years and companies are promoting many different opportunities for your first-time experience; The Royal Opera House offers a Student Standby Scheme.
I can assure every reader that in some context, they have come into contact with Opera without realizing. This art form is no longer elitist and opportunities to experience the art form are available. Just give it a go; avoid the stereotypical barrier and experience the art form for yourself. Art is about individual appreciation; therefore judge Opera for yourself!