An Opera Primer, Continued
I've been following with interest the range of responses to my query about what opera to recommend to a first-time opera-goer.
I have, of course, my own personal biases. I do feel strongly that going live makes a difference. And it also makes a difference (as was mentioned in the comments) how good the singers are. I've had several friends come to me for advice about what to see at the Metropolitan Opera and say, "It doesn't matter if the singers are good, because I'm so new to opera I won't know the difference." To which I invariably reply, "Whether or not you appreciate all the vocal nuances, you will definitely know the difference between an excellent performance and a so-so one." Seeing a dud as a first opera is enough to turn people off from trying it again.
This spring, a sociologist named Claudio Benzecry, a professor at the University of Connecticut, published a paper on how people become opera fans. For 18 months between 2002 and 2005, he tracked fans who bought cheap seats or standing-room tickets on the upper floors of the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires: people from "diverse middle-class backgrounds who had not been brought up to enjoy opera."
(read more after the jump)
The point of the paper was to explore the ways in which people are initiated into a "high-culture" activity, and it established that people felt that opera was something that you had to learn about in order to enjoy. But what was most significant -- to me, at least -- is that it also established that people who love opera tend to experience a coup de foudre at the first encounter: a passionate love, an "aha" moment, that leads them to want to learn more about the art form. They then tend to learn from other, more experienced fans who initiate them into the lingo and into the mores (when to clap, when to boo, and so forth).
This "love at first sight" idea is important because it goes against our widely held assumption that you can gently educate someone into loving opera. The paper shows that yes, education is a part of the process, but only those who are already interested are going to want the education.
Perhaps it's my own bias, but I take the paper as confirmation that if you're introducing someone to opera (and the relative I wrote about in my original post is no child, but a sophisticated, urban-dwelling twenty-something), it's a great idea to start with the very best opera you can think of.
I should add, though, that my own personal experience fell somewhere in between the two: I was exposed to a lot of opera as a child, and then had the explosive, falling-in-love-with-opera-forever experience as a teenager. I can't say if the former predisposed me to the latter.
How did you catch the opera bug?
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