A Beginner’s Guide to Opera

OLLIE THICKNESSE 30 October 2013

So you’ve had your share of overly camp musicals, and you’re sick to death of metatheatrical monstrosities: where do you turn to now?

Opera-wards. In many ways, it resembles musical theatre: singers and musicians performing a dramatic work which combines dramatic text with music. (Indeed, there is potential for cross-over between these two forms, as CUADC’s recent production of Aida will prove.) In its simplest terms, therefore, in no way daunting. The language barrier may, however, seem a tad off-putting. Yes, there are droves of operas written in English by capable composers, but nothing quite compares to the sound of Mozart or Bizet. It adds just that little bit of the je-ne-sais-quoi to the proceedings, and I am of the opinion that the language barrier actually forces the spectator to focus more on the music than they would otherwise. Furthermore, it is worth avoiding the often atonal works of the 20th century when one begins in opera: Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) is therefore perfection. Beautiful music, gigantic serpents and a ludicrous plot. The tickets may be expensive, but it’s worth the cash. Say farewell to drab reality; hurl yourself headlong into the embrace of superlative and majestically crafted metaphor. Nothing comes close to the thrill of opera.

If you’re not convinced by any of this, let reality TV – far at the other end of the cultural spectrum – do the talking. For I believe that a wise man – a certain Spencer 'Love-Rat' Matthews from Made in Chelsea – once persuaded a friend to the opera with the following sentiment: “Mate, you’d love it. It’s fucking exhilarating.” 

For once, Spencer – and for once only  – you’re not wrong.