A conversation about opera with a friend who cheerfully admits 'not getting it' promoted an introspective moment wondering what it is I get about it.
I haven't always got it. And there are still things k don't - like overlong recits, for example, or sets that contort the singers into ridiculous, semi-hidden poses.
But that's not the point. I hugely enjoy opera. The magical blend of music - usually the best music written - and high drama, extreme emotion, passion - usually succeed in making any opera experience worthwhile. There was a time, though, when I didn't get it. And so I wondered what it was that did it and whether it might do the same for other people.
I came to opera piecemeal. I grew acquainted with, and grew to love, the tunes - the arias - and knew little of the story or the context in which they were sung. Get a classical opera highlights CD - one sung by the really best singers - and you're on your way. Next, narrow your composers.
Opera is a big beast (that's the art-form - not the singers) and there is a huge range of periods, styles and flavours. It doesn't have to be restrictive: you can, as I do, love Mozart as much as Benjamin Britten. But there will be certain composers whose music your prefer, whose language speaks louder to you than the others - go with him. And it will, unfortunately, almost certainly be a him.
Now, choose some of your favourite arias by this composer - and identify just one opera. Maybe the one with the most of the best-loved tune or the one blockbuster aria that you can't get over. It doesn't matter. A small amount - not too much - research into the plot (if there is one - plot isn't usually very complicated in opera) and you're ready. Now, choose a performance - the best you can afford tickets for. And sit back, relax, and wait for those arias you love. You'll probably hear them first in the overture, then maybe little snippets at different junctures, before - wham! - you'll be hearing it for the first time in context, sung beautifully and with what should be a wonderful orchestral accompaniment.i almost guarantee you'll be bowled over. Almost, becausr opera may not be for everybody. But if you'd like it to be for you, try my tried and trusted technique and... wallow!