Culture

Fallen Women, Falling Myths

With the beginning of the Welsh National Opera’s new season; ‘Fallen Women’, in Wales Millennium Centre next week, the subject of opera’s place in the young adult’s life is questioned. Jordan Nicholls takes us through some of the myths that have popped up around opera, and why they’re false.

Many young adults are culturally curious, and enjoy activities such as trips to the museum and art galleries. Yet as soon as opera is mentioned they are quick to disregard it. But why is this? Is it ignorance, or perhaps the stigma attached to the genre? Despite opera companies’ best efforts to draw more young people into its audiences, youngsters are still hesitant to venture into the opera house.

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This can be understood to some extent; for example, perhaps it’s because of the fact that operatic music is given less press coverage and radio airtime. Young people are unfamiliar with opera, and therefore the prospect of sitting through a three hour production full of music in this style is daunting.

However, is opera really that unfamiliar? Many would be surprised by the amount of well-known tunes which are in fact taken from operas themselves or arias from these operas, including:‘Habanera’ from Carmen, Wagner’s ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’ from Die Walküre, or ‘Nessun Dorma’ from Puccini’s Turandot. ITV’s hit reality television show, ‘Popstar to Operastar’, opened the operatic vocal style and music to the mainstream audience, and with classical artists such as Katherine Jenkins and Il Divo achieving enormous mainstream chart success clearly shows opera has a well-established place in today’s culture. Here are the common myths weíre about to debunk:

1. Operas are uninteresting or boring

Perhaps a vision of a large woman attempting to break a glass with her voice springs to mind. To say this is false is a bit of an understatement! Opera is full to the brim of action-packed drama; abduction, threat of imprisonment and deportation, and a sudden death (Puccini’s Manon Lescaut) is a tad more interesting than your average episode of Eastenders. You’d also be surprised as to how strikingly relevant opera can be to today’s society. For example, the 2011 opera Anna Nicole by Mark-Anthony Turnage told the true story of the titular playboy model’s death of a drug overdose. Some of the most popular musicals today actually stem from operatic works. A prime example of this is Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boubill’s hit, Miss Saigon, which is based on Puccini’s masterpiece, Madame Butterfly. Similarly, the 1996 rock musical Rent by Jonathan Larson is in fact based on Puccini’s La Bohème.

2. I won’t understand what’s going on!

Fear not – the majority of opera houses now provide audiences with surtitles above the stage with direct translations throughout the opera and although you may think this would be difficult to follow or distracting, it really isn’t. Admittedly it can also be an intimidating prospect for newcomers to the opera that the entire work is sung through.  However, it is important to note that the complete sung-through approach is fast becoming the norm for musical theatre also, for example works such as The Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables and Cats are all sung through musicals. Therefore the fact opera contains very little (if any) spoken dialogue is neither unusual nor difficult to follow.

3. I don’t like that shaky-voice thing operatic singers do

Vibrato’s something that puts people off but it’s a stylistic technique: it is primarily a way of emphasising libretto and creating dramatic tension, and isn’t something to be intimidated by. Artists found that dialogue alone couldn’t sufficiently express the drama of the stories they wanted to tell; and so, the operatic style was born. The use of vibrato merely reflects this drive for drama.

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4. Opera tickets are way too expensive, and not worth the money

Perhaps this is the biggest myth dissuading young people to visit the opera; the typical vision of the opera audience are the rich and the old. But that is simply nonsense when the price of tickets for the opera are lowering all the time. Some of the top opera houses in the world, such as the Royal Opera House and the Metropolitan Opera in New York have begun to transmit live broadcasts of operas to cinemas throughout the UK in an attempt to make opera more accessible to all generations.  The Welsh National Opera currently offers everyone under thirty to attend any performance in its ‘Fallen Women’ series for just £5!!! What else can you get, at that quality, for £5 these days?

5. I wouldn’t know how to behave in the opera house

As with all other art forms, there is a level of etiquette expected from the audience, but this is no different to any other theatrical event, music concert, or even film screening. The idea of audiences being full of old, high-brow, upper class couples peering down a pair of binoculars in full dinner jackets and floor length evening dresses is simply untrue. You can wear whatever makes you comfortable, and whatever’s respectful of the people around you. Turn off your phone and try not to do anything that would unnecessarily distract either the cast or the audience.

La traviata comes to the Wales Millenium Centre this month, from February 4 to March 11.

Verdiís La traviata is part of the WNO’s “Fallen Women” series and is possibly one of the best operas for the newcomer. For £5, you’d be mad to let this opportunity pass you by!

La traviata follows the story of the courtesan Violetta who falls in love with the young nobleman Alfredo. However, Alfredoís father does not accept Violetta into the family, and she is forced to break off her relationship with Alfredo. Too late, Alfredo’s father realises how much he has hurt the young couple and tries to repent, but unbeknownst to them all, Violetta suffers from a fatal consumption…

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