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Why Do People Like Opera?

Opera, much like other types of performing arts, is an acquired interest and absolutely takes time and understanding to truly appreciate. The stereotype of the Viking woman singing shrill notes that are elongated so far as to break a glass is not something that the average passerby would find appealing. And to make it worse, going to an opera can be intimidating, confusing, and downright boring, especially if you show up without any background and realizing it’s all in a foreign language! That being said, there is a reason the Metropolitan Theater and Lyric Opera in Chicago sell out show after show and no, it’s not just to give people an excuse to dress up (although that’s fun too).

Some of the top reasons people enjoy opera are the stories, the orchestra, the singing talent, the acting talent, and the sets. We will dive into each of these with some of the best examples below.

The Stories of Opera

Some of the most famous opera’s were written in the 1700s and 1800s, and much like Greek mythology or Shakespeare, the simple yet gripping stories have proven timeless. Operas, much like a play, take you through a story that has you connect on an emotional level with the characters. In opera you will find everything from heroes and humor to revenge and murder.

A very good example of a great opera story is Carmen, by composer Georges Bizet. Carmen tells the story of a soldier in Spain who is lured away from a career and true love by a flirtatious woman who grows tired of him, leaving him for a celebrity. Jam packed with heart-breaking lyrics and themes that resonate with anybody throughout human history, people are attracted to this in the same way as a good movie or song lyrics that speak to you.

The Orchestra

Sometimes opera newbies forget or maybe don’t even realize the live musicians that are performing in “the pit” beneath the stage. This is the reason that many opera fans begin as classical music fans. Lots of classical tunes that people are familiar with are actually from operas.

The overture (orchestral piece that opens an opera) of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro is not only one of the catchiest tunes in opera history, but also displays impressive musicianship.

Mozart – The Marriage of Figaro Overture” performed by the Wiener Symphoniker, Japan Tour 2006

The Singing Talent

Imagine trying to sing over a drum, a violin, and a trumpet playing at the same time. Now try to imagine singing over up to 100 different instruments playing as loud as they can! Many people who aren’t familiar with opera don’t consider that opera was performed long before the invention of microphones, and singers had to learn to sing in a way that could be heard over the entire orchestra. In fact most operas today still do not use microphones for their singers. Whether you enjoy the sound or not, the science behind how opera singers can project and “throw” their voice to the farthest seat in an opera theater is truly impressive.

Here is a video of Luciano Pavarotti, arguably the most famous opera singer of all time, performing “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot. This is a quote from youtube user John Wallace:

My God, when he loads up for that final “vincerò,” he shakes his head ever so slightly, locks in his jaw, and that note just flows so perfectly and effortlessly forth. What a singer.

The Acting Talent

Where far in the past the acting of opera singers may not have been as much focused on, the acting skills of the world’s top opera singers are no longer overlooked. Just like other performing arts, Operas can be romantic, heart-breaking, and can also be humorous like this scene from Mozart’s Le Nozze Di Figaro, where several performers are trying to hide from being discovered in the same scene.

Acting is on full display with singers like Anna Netrebko, who pulls the audience in with not just her voice and lyrics, but with her facial expressions and gestures. This is her performing “Sempre Liberi” from a modern, minimalist rendition of La Traviata. In it, she tries to deny the feeling of love as she wishes to be always free and careless.

The Sets

With opera theaters looking to expand their reach and always draw in new crowds, opera set design has become more and more extreme over the years. In fact, the opera stage has become somewhat of a playground for architects to explore and experiment, adding to their portfolios. From modern, minimalist sets to extreme extravagance, sets have become a main attraction to seeing an opera live.