Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds I’ve been spending a lot of my time for over a decade now researching, teaching, thinking about, listening to and watching opera. It’s become a huge part of my life, both professionally and personally - but I didn’t grow up going to opera and I’m not trained as a singer. In fact, when I was first studying music at university, I thought opera’s history was fascinating, but to be perfectly honest, I found it really quite hard to listen to. It was often long, it was sometimes quite strange, and above all, I found those huge operatic voices really quite difficult to relate to.
Skip to 0 minutes and 40 seconds But when I moved to London as a postgraduate student, I was lucky enough to find more opportunities to go to live performances cheaply, and the more opera I heard, the more it
Skip to 0 minutes and 51 seconds all started to fit together: the more I began to hear the nuance and the expressivity in individual singers’ voices, and ultimately, the more opera really began to mean something to me, personally. But that still doesn’t explain why these pieces, often written hundreds of years ago in a world almost completely different to our own, can still move us today, can still make us laugh or cry.
Skip to 1 minute and 15 seconds One of the biggest challenges for me of studying and writing about opera is how to bridge the gap between what’s going on in an opera, what’s happening on stage, what the orchestra’s doing, what it looks like - how to bridge the gap between that and the outside world, whether that’s the world in which the opera was written or the world in which we’re watching it today. One way to do that is to recognise just how entangled opera has always been in other developments, whether in politics or in society or in other art forms - in literature or the visual arts.
Skip to 1 minute and 50 seconds Opera is a huge and complicated art form, and it’s always relied on really quite distinctly un-operatic infrastructures and technologies in order to be staged. It’s never been cut off, somehow, in its own little world. Opera’s reputation for conservatism or elitism today has also been a problem here, I think. It’s hard to imagine opera ever being at the cutting edge of anything. It’s just a load of people singing, isn’t it? But the way they’re singing and what they’re singing about can tell us a huge amount about culture and society at the time at which that opera was written. It can be a sort of time capsule.
Skip to 2 minutes and 27 seconds And what’s more, there have been times in opera’s history when it really has led the way in technological innovation. But most of all, what’s magical about opera for me and what keeps me coming back to it again and again is the way it creates a time and a space in which to explore really quite extreme, sometimes quite abstract, emotions. It gives us a chance to have experiences far removed from everyday life. And yet that magic, that abstraction, in fact, all of opera’s expressive possibility, that’s all predicated on all kinds of mundane systems and technologies without which opera just couldn’t function. People sometimes complain that opera is unrealistic. But to me, that’s one of the great things about it.
Skip to 3 minutes and 11 seconds It gives us a completely different angle from which to think about our own lives. The ways that opera represents human existence on stage, they are often, yes, unrealistic. But the issues that opera deals with, the emotions it can generate, and the nitty-gritty
Skip to 3 minutes and 28 seconds of how it works: that is all absolutely real.
But why does opera matter?
In this video, Flora Willson, our lead educator, talks about why opera is important to her, and shares her thoughts on opera’s place in the world today.
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