When you hear the word “opera,” what comes to mind? A rotund man warbling in a tuxedo? The fat viking lady? Your grandparents out on an old-person date?
These are fair assumptions. The image of a fat man in a tuxedo comes from the popularity of the late tenor Luciano Pavarotti, one of the most famous voices in classical music.
The image of a fat lady wearing viking horns stems from Brunhilde, a character in Richard Wagner’s epic four-opera cycle from the 1800s entitled “Der Ring des Nibelungen.”
The idea of a four-part epic on the subject of a powerful ring might also sound familiar if you’re into J. R. R. Tolkein.
As for your dear old grandparents, it’s possible that they just have good taste in music. But the predominance of elderly patrons has also been a problem plaguing opera houses around the world.
Young people just don’t seem to care about it.
Opera consists of athleticism, danger and excitement that dwells on some of the rawest, most ineffable elements of the human experience.
There’s a misconception that some people just have “operatic” voices. Just as in athletics, pure talent can only carry you so far.
Opera singers train for years, learning all the intricacies of their voice and developing a healthy singing technique. This involves finding and releasing all sources of tension in the body and maximizing natural resonance in order to fill concert halls without artificial amplification.
When a great opera singer combines this Olympic-caliber athleticism with a free and beautiful sound that overwhelms the hall, nothing in the world is more thrilling.
While operatic singers aren’t necessarily required to have more range than pop singers, they are required to maintain a consistent sound through all vocal registers.
Whereas male pop singers like Frank Ocean often sing high notes in falsetto (the vocal range used for Mickey Mouse), an operatic tenor trains himself to sing those same high notes with the same full sound with which he sings his low and middle ranges.
And let’s not forget that opera isn’t just a style of music. Opera is a combination between music and theater that allows the performers to go beyond acting and beyond the written word.
The full-bodied style of opera allows the singers to explore elements of the human experience that simply can’t be put into words. Stories of love, lust, revenge, redemption and even comedy can be approached from an angle that is inaccessible by film, novel or visual art.
Perhaps more than anything, it’s this unique angle that makes opera an art form worthy of appreciation by more than just the silver fox crowd.
I’m not saying opera should replace pop music on your iPod. With all the innovation going on right now in popular music it would be silly to ignore the genius of artists like Kanye West and Radiohead.
All I’m saying is that opera is a unique and exciting form of music that deserves a spot in your library.
Andrew Metzger is a senior music and environmental science double major.