You don’t have to be a musicologist or a musician to enjoy opera. More and more, particularly with the new technology of High Definition Blu-ray discs and HD-Live Broadcasts, it’s becoming accessible for everyone. Opera doesn’t need to be critically examined with an appreciation or comprehension of the technical qualities of the singing or the minutiae of the musical technique – you no more need to be a musician to appreciate opera than you need to be a filmmaker to go and see and fully appreciate a movie. Opera, like cinema, is a collaborative artform but, like drama, it’s also an interpretative, living, progressive artform, enjoying the best of both worlds, never remaining static, preserved in amber or fixed in celluloid. So while on the one hand, 200, 300 and nearly 400 year old works are being revived by the greatest composers the world has ever seen, they are continually subjected to new productions by musicians and stage directors who are capable of exploring new aspects of the works, drawing out eternal themes in a manner that makes them relevant to a modern-day audience.
You don’t have to be an expert to admire the intelligence of the interpretation of those themes, the ingenuity of the stage design and costumes, or simply to connect on an emotional level with the drama being enacted in the eternal social, political and romantic expressions of the human condition, one made all the more human by the subtle resonances to be found in the remarkable combination of music, singing and dramatic representation, performed live, purely and honestly, without effects or manipulation, by some of the greatest artists in the world. And there is no better time than now to explore what opera has to offer. Until relatively recently, the opportunity to delve into any works beyond the traditional favourites of Verdi, Puccini and Mozart, in visual representation as much as in musical performance (opera is as much a visual artform as it is an auditory one), have been minimal in the UK unless you live close to London – and it helps if you are fairly wealthy too.
The advent of Blu-ray and HD-Live broadcasts mean that this need no longer be the case, and it is now possible to explore a greater range of an artform that has an extensive 400 year old back-catalogue. Arguably, opera benefits from High Definition much more than cinema presentations, the benefits realised not only in crystal sharp, HD photographed performances available on almost uniformly high standard Blu-ray disc releases, but more significantly in the overwhelmingly powerful and detailed High Definition audio tracks provided. With HD-Live moreover, extraordinary productions from the greatest opera houses in the world, previously only accessible to a few thousand wealthy and privileged individuals, can now be broadcast live in HD from La Scala in Milan or from Covent Garden in London, direct to cinemas across the world. Suddenly, you have an affordable opportunity to watch practically all the major productions of a complete season of the Met in New York, with the finest musicians and the finest singers in the world, without having to travel further than your local cinema.
Opera is and should be for everyone then, and really, it needs to be in order to survive. Some might prefer that opera remain the preserve of a privileged elite, but it needs to expand a new, young and modern audience if it is to remain relevant, progressive, inventive and attract the talent that is able to bring out the qualities of the best that opera has to offer. Just as importantly, it has to attract the kind of audiences that can ensure that it is able to continue to extend state-of-the-art spectacles and dramatic innovations that you will not find anywhere else in the theatre.