You must have heard about Sopranos passionately singing at the Met and La Scala; perhaps, it is one of or earliest memories with opera. You would also have come across the gripping story of Carmen. As a matter of fact, who could ignore Bizet’s flawed and powerful substance that manages to pull the strings of our hearts every time we hear. Queen of the Night in Mozart’s The Magic Flute also remains quite a popular addition here. But have you ever been to an opera house? In this article, we shall share with you an up-close and personal account of the opera experience.
Opera is drama set to music
To make a perfect opera, there is a whole set of layers following the basic concept of the libretto, vocal production, stage design, voice types, dramaturgy, composition, and direction. Someone reflects onto a text that they deeply adore which is then adapted by a librettist into a proper formation of opera. Perhaps the librettist may write an original libretto. A composer incorporates music to this libretto.
An opera begins long before the curtain goes up and ends long after it has come down. It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I’ve left the opera house. - Maria Callas, Greek soprano
There is not much to do once an opera is composed. It is then up to the director to form a staging. The musical director forms an orchestra consisting of musicians of all categories. These musicians not only play tunes in the overture but also follow the singers while they are at their work. The selection of singers is done through a cast. The same applies to selecting a chorus, actors, dancers, and extras for the opera.
Not to forget, the costumes are also tailored made to the theme of the evening. In modern day operas, there is much incorporation of technology like videos, electronic sounds, projections, etc. by sound designers at the backend. There are professionals out there who with their performances help put together an ideal opera atmosphere. Much of the performers at an opera are experienced professionals who understand and are quick to the instructions.
In this regard, we reached out to a professional librettist from the United Kingdom, Euan Tait, who enlightened us of the challenges that he faces:
“The greatest – to keep surprising and delighting composers, singers and listeners, to create texts which speak to audiences with the quality of companionship, of an artist as a fellow pilgrim. To me, that is the greatest challenge and joy of this work - to help people sing of what it is to be human, their struggles – and to know, through the work we artists create, that someone is out there, struggling like them, and through their work, helping them to express it.
“On the practical level, I’m hoping to find commissions for myself composers to work towards, so that we work together to help realize these visions of the heart. So many of the ideas that commissioners themselves suggest, then grow into major visions.”
At the backend, technicians are always up to something to entice the audience. Many operas have fictional environments where lighting and visual effects come into play. Fog machines and creeping scenes are also used as models for effects. Lighting and thunder are also some of the most common effects.
There are whole departments responsible for opera seasons. They are in charge of performing rights, manage the contracts of musicians as well as oversee funding. There are also professionals working on marketing materials for promotion, and there is a lot of background activity out there and their work is just as important as the contemporary performers at an evening opera. Ticket sellers, ushers, and any personnel that is doing any sort of job is an important part of the opera.