To Simon, I’d like to learn more about opera – not as a performer but just as an audience member, and I was wondering if you had any ideas about where I should start?
It’s wonderful that you want to learn more about opera.
Firstly, remember that opera is about story telling. It’s really hard to get into recordings of opera without seeing the action on stage. So I would suggest going to see as much opera live as you can. For me, opera is all about text, music, acting and design all coming together to tell a story. Just listening to a recording often doesn’t give you a good idea of if you actually like it or not. There are quite a few companies in Melbourne that offer affordable rates for students and people under 30.
If you want to listen to recordings, definitely do not start by listening to a whole opera in one go. Start with the highlights. Get a recording of something like Pavarotti or Sutherland or whoever you like singing arias and listen through them. See which ones you like. If you love Pav singing something from Tosca, you might then go and explore the other well-known sections of that opera. And definitely give yourself permission to not love everything – you might love Wagner and hate Verdi, or love 20th century minimalist opera and hate Handel. It doesn’t matter. It’s a hugely diverse range of music.
If you want to explore a bit more deeply, I’d suggest listening to opera while reading a translation of the text. It’s often good to read a synopsis of the plot as well. It sounds like a bit of work, but it can make it a lot more fulfilling. There are plenty of good books and internet resources about operas as well. There’s a pretty hilarious book by Brian Castles-Onion called ‘Losing the Plot in Opera’ that I would recommend. Also have a bit of an explore of different voices and what kind of characters they usually play.
Hopefully that’s a bit of a start, and I hope you love exploring opera!