Opera: the Underestimated Faction of Music
by Lucas Witherspoon
As a disclaimer, I’m aware this entire article is going to make me sound like a pretentious douchebag, but just hear me out.
As a child growing up in the rural South, I had very little exposure to the arts and saw opera as being comprised of farce-ridden, Falstaff-esque characters who shouted random words; I genuinely didn’t understand the appeal. It wasn’t until I took a college preparatory class in high school that required me to write a 10-page paper on Beethoven that I truly appreciated opera as an immaculate craft. That paper required me to study Beethoven in-depth, which led me to discover Fidelio. Fidelio may have been his only opera, but it served as a kairotic moment for me.
From there, I dove into the pool of generic classical composers (Handel, Verdi, Rachmaninoff, etc.) and found that—holy shit!—this was an untapped musical genus I’d been missing out on.
Superficially, it was the amazing voices that drew me toward the field of opera, because the more I listened and learned, the more I realized that opera requires incredible vocal skills and the ability to subsequently emote. That’s a challenge.
The major complaints I hear from others about opera is that (a) it all sounds like screaming, (b) a majority of operas are performed in languages they don’t understand, and (c) operas are boring.
I get it. Opera isn’t for everyone. But, it only sounds like “screaming” to philistine eardrums. As for the other two criticisms: I’m not fluent in Russian, but can comprehend what someone like Galina Vishnevskaya is singing about in Iolanta. That’s how opera works: if a performer is good, you don’t need linguistic fluency, and that’s why I love opera.
Opera is truly a universal language.