What exactly is the opera experience?

Multi-media score
By SARA FAITH ALTERMAN  |  January 23, 2009

VIDEO: Longwood Opera goes Broadway

What exactly is the opera experience? "There's this completely wrong stereotype about opera," says Roxanna Myhrum of the Boston Opera Collaborative . "You think of an overweight Valkyrie woman who is highly affluent and cultured and in this bubble of existence."

That image of the proverbial Valkyrie who warbles bullishly in an unrecognizable language about love, death, and scandal (18th century-style) is probably the most common perception of what to expect at an opera. But whether or not opera deserves this reputation, or has simply grown beyond it after centuries of re-interpretations and experimentation, it is simply untrue.

"If you consider opera in an historical context, it probably has always been more multi-media than most of the other performing arts," says John Whittlesey, the artistic director of Intermezzo . "Opera is the combination of the musical (aural), dramatic (visual), and emotional sensations that makes it such an evolved and connective form of communication."

"This is one of the only art forms that contains other art forms," says Scott Brumit, co-founder and director of Longwood Opera, created in the 1980s with the intention of giving young singers their first meaty roles before they flee the city for larger markets. "Music, movement, acting, dancing, costuming, painting. It uses instruments. It is now using video. Pretty much any art form you can think of, there's an opportunity in opera to use it."

"Opera was the original multi-media experience
," says Judith McMichael, director of marketing and business partnerships at the Boston Lyric Opera. "It's a 350-year-old art form that includes singing, huge orchestras, acting, staging, sometimes dancing, [and] terrific lighting. It can be a total immersion experience. It is a total immersion experience."

The BLO is attempting to capitalize on today's obsession with multi-media among young people, who spend their lives clicking, re-clicking...and re-clicking on YouTube clips and podcasts, by working to garner young audience members. Their BRAVO program is designed to attract young professionals in their 20s and 30s to the opera by offering discounted tickets, access to hot opening night after parties, and, as is true of a few upcoming events, access to a private bar in the Shubert Theatre, where the BLO primarily performs. They've nailed it. Who loves to booze more than young professionals?

However, that multi-media component can work against opera just as much as it works for it, says Brumit. "With the advancement of technology, we have begun to notice an interesting development in that people have forgotten what a live performance is," he says. "You can turn on your TV and watch anything you would ever want to find, including opera, and you'd never have to leave your house. We're seeing a number of generations who are missing the whole concept of live performance. And yet, because of technology like YouTube, more young people are being exposed to opera, which is piquing more interest."

Audio Samples from Longwood Opera’s 2007 production of Die Fledermaus

Related: Photos: BLO's Idomeneo at the Shubert, Fall Classical Preview: The power of music, Giving thanks: The Cantata Singers' Wyner and Vaughan Williams, More more >
  Topics: Classical , Internet, Internet Broadcasting, Science and Technology,  More more >
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