Mad Skillz: Andrew on appreciating opera

My friend Andrew is a fully sick opera singer. He’s not going to teach you how to be a fully sick opera singer – instead, he wants to foster a greater appreciation of the arts in the readers of this relatively low brow blog.

Andrew and I were part of the world’s most inappropriately named “beach mission” on the Tweed River. He has the honour of having a cafe in Toowoomba named after him. That’s inspirational and aspirational stuff. Here’s what Andrew has to say about appreciating opera.

I think opera is the greatest art-form. To be fair, when it’s not sogreat, it can be awful, but when it’s good, there’s nothing like it. (As far as I can tell, the voice is the only the instrument created before the fall, which explains a lot).

Thankfully I moved on from a childhood love of Andrew Lloyd Webber after beginning singing lessons during high-school, and discovered Gilbert & Sullivan operetta, and then the operas of Mozart. I spent 9 years as a uni student studying singing, in Toowoomba, Sydney and London, before landing my first gig, in the Opera Studio of the Staatstheater Nürnberg.

The stereotypes of opera and opera singers are generally not true, and they should not put you off exploring opera. So here are my five tips for the uninitiated:

  1. Go and see some live opera (I mean a staged one, not some wanna-be popera singer) – and as Rollando Villazon said, you don’t just read one poem and decide you don’t like poetry, so try a few.
  2. If you’ve not really seen any opera before, try some of the more popular ones to get started – to get your ear ‘in’, my suggestions would be: ‘The Magic Flute’ or ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ both by Mozart, ‘La Bohéme’ by Puccini, ‘La Traviata’ by Verdi or Bizet’s ‘Carmen’.
  3. Most places will either sing in English or have the surtitles (personally I prefer original language with surtitles) so understanding should not be a problem, but you might want to read upon the story on Wikipedia before you go.
  4. There’s no need to dress up, though you can if you want to. I went to the Royal Opera House in sneakers and jeans all the time (though Germany is a little more conservative).
  5. If you’re a student, or under 30, there are some really great deals on tickets to be found. Some theatres, like the ROH do day tickets which you can line up for, and if you get in early enough, havetickets from 7GBP. While there are expensive seats, it’s a myth that opera is only for the rich. Don’t forget to keep an eye on the student productions at the conservatories, where excellent young singers and fresh, energetic productions can often be seen for about the price of a movie ticket. Many of the major opera houses also do free performances in the park or big-screen relays in the summer.

So I why not dip your toes in the water of opera – it’s good once you’re in!