Skip main navigation

What is opera for in the 21st century?

In this video, contributors to the course tell us what they think opera is for in the 21st century, and why it still matters.
Do you think opera still matters in the 21st century? Yeah, I really do. Opera is the quintessential community event. It has great music. It has scenery. It’s an exceptional combination of two art forms, music and drama. For me, that’s why it matters. Do you think opera still matters in the 21st century? Do you think it’s relevant today? Yeah, I really do because opera is dramatic, intense storytelling and theatre is storytelling, and we always want to hear stories about the human condition, human emotion. I mean, some of the stories that you find in opera may seem outlandish and a little bit distant from real life, but the feelings are the same. You know, the feelings are recognisable.
The feelings are about being a human being and love, hate, jealousy, all these things. That’s universal, and I think music is a universal language, so can cross barriers, can break down barriers, can enable all sorts of experimentation. So really, opera can be only limited by the imagination of the composer, or the writer or the director. So really, anything could be possible.
I think art matters, and great art is about tearing you apart, and opening you up, and helping you to look at yourself and the society that you live in. And although opera is only a part of the way to do that, it is really important part.
Opera is the quintessential community event. We come together, usually in a rounded auditorium so that we can see the people as well as the show. We share the emotions. We share the dilemma. We share the comedy. We laugh. We cry. But we do it together, and yet you can have the most private experience in opera. It’s a mystery, isn’t it?
You know, we don’t have to say that opera is valuable, that it matters, because it’s relevant, because it’s direct. You know, we have newspapers for that. I think opera is valuable because it’s strange; it’s crazy, it’s extravagant, it’s absurd, and I think that’s what it gives us.
Does opera still matter in the 21st century? Absolutely. It seems to me that opera is one of those types of entertainment that includes everything we could want out of entertainment. It has stardom. It has great music. It has scenery. It has directors who impose their will on a production. It has a social occasion that really is unique among many other types of entertainments. And for all these reasons, and given the historical continuity that this is what entertainment is about, opera is absolutely still relevant in the 21st century.
When opera really works, it’s an exceptional combination of two
art forms: music and drama. It’s really, really hard to make it work beautifully, but I think when you see pieces of opera where there’s two ideas are working hand-in-glove, where the drama and the music, the conductor and the director and the performers are all together, cohered with one shared purpose, it’s a life-changing art form.
So I’ve just been asked, why does opera matter? And why does opera matter today? I want to ask, why does film matter? Why does theatre matter? Why do pop concerts matter? I think they all matter because they move us. They move us in different ways. They engage with us. They make us think. They make us quiet. They make us say yes. They make us say no. We might like it. We might not like it. I think the whole point is you come to an opera for an experience, and if you don’t like it, that’s OK. Have the conversation. Come and see it. Come and judge it. Decide to come again. You might see something else.
But it’s an art form that is immediate, and extraordinary and familiar. These are stories often told that we will understand from our daily lives. Because they’re sung, does it mean that we can’t engage? I don’t think so. For me, it’s something that makes me breathe every day, and I’d invite you to come along and have a go and try the same.
For me, opera matters in the 21st century because it cuts right the way through from being the most extraordinary, the most over-the-top, the most unlikely thing in the world, right the way through to speaking to us incredibly directly, viscerally, actually making you vibrate inside. And that is an extraordinary experience, something that can give you the time and the space to think and to feel about being human far apart from everyday life, but at the same time being completely connected to it. For me, that’s why it matters.
In this video, contributors to the course – both those who work in the world of opera and those who study it – tell us what they think opera is for in the 21st century, and why it still matters.
This article is from the free online

Inside Opera: Why Does It Matter?

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education