Opera: Deconstructing Myths

Written By: Val Kostyuk

When you think of the Opera, your first thought may be an unpleasant one.  Opera tends to get a bad rap because of myths circling around it, scaring away potential audiences. Unlike the implications of these myths, it is truly a fascinating spectacle that is so worthwhile checking out. One might even say that Opera is the grandmother of the modern musical.  Let’s deconstruct a few of these myths, and hopefully convince you to see an Opera sooner rather than later!

Myth #1: It is hard to understand.

Most Operas are performed in the original language in which they were written, and so many popular Operas today are performed in Italian, French, or German.  Luckily, you do not have to be an expert in these languages in order understand what is happening on the stage. Similar to the experience you may have had if you have ever watched a foreign film where you are provided with English subtitles, Operas have English supertitles which generally appear on a screen above the stage (unless you are at the Vienna State Opera where you are provided with subtitles on the seat in front of you). If the supertitles are not enough to help you out, you can also take a look in the program, where you will find a synopsis of each scene/act that helps you follow along with the story. These tools at your disposal are very helpful to an audience that make understanding Opera not a problem; the experience might even help you learn a new language!

Myth #2: Operas are too long.

Like any movie, television show, or play, Operas vary in duration. Of course there are Operas which many might consider to be too long. However, this particular myth which generalizes every Opera as being too long has developed after the creation of Richard Wagner’s cycle of operas “The Ring of the Nibelung”. Wagner’s cycle consists of 4 operas, which each clock in at around 5 hours long, all together around 20 hours of Opera! Terrible, you might say. Luckily, there is a countless number of Operas which are no longer than your average feature film.  So next time you’re planning your Friday night out to the movies, why not see an Opera instead?

Click here to find a chart with the running times of some of the most notable operas.

Myth #3: Opera is boring.

Just like any film, Operas vary in topic — from a very confusing story about a war between Greek gods, to a drama, to a RomCom. There’s an Opera out there for everyone! And it’s not just the plot that will pique your interest: the set, the costumes and other extravagant production elements are often so grandiose that you’ll be fully immersed in the production even hours after it’s over.

Myth #4: The singers sound strange.

Yes, this might be the case at first if you are not used to it. The Opera has it’s origins in the 16th century, long before the invention of electronic sound amplification systems. Opera singers used to have to sing and be heard over an orchestra with an average of 60 instruments. Thus, in order to be heard, they had to rely on nothing but their own voices and the acoustics of the theatre. True to the origins of Opera, to this day singers do not use microphones to amplify their voices.  Rather, they are trained to use their voices in the specific manner which allows them to be heard by every person in the audience. The voices of some Opera singers will even give you goosebumps, and the force and strength in their voices will leave you speechless.


5. Opera is expensive.

Like any other art, sometimes it can be. It takes a lot of funds to create and run something as massive as an Opera, and sometimes this is reflected in the ticket price. However, there are many ways to get to see an Opera for a reasonable price. The Canadian Opera Company has great programs offering cheap tickets so that Opera can be affordable and accessible. If you are under 30 years old, you can buy tickets for $22. As a student you can also buy tickets to go see an Opera’s dress rehearsal for only $15.  Sound enticing?  The next round of dress rehearsals for the COC will take place in January 2018 — take some time out of your busy schedule and make sure to go see something new!

Hopefully our myth-busting endeavour has encouraged you to put aside your generalizations and go check out an Opera!  Go widen your horizons and find something new to fall in love with. You can find more information at coc.ca; There’s lots to see!