I love opera. There: I said it.
What’s more, but this sports-loving, Leeds United-supporting, rock music fan has even been known to shed a tear at “Ebben? Ne Andro Lontana” from Catalani’s La Wally, the rather more obvious “O mio babbino caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicci and my favourite melody, the ‘Intermezzo’ of Cavalleria Rusticana by Mascagni - perhaps the most beautiful piece of music ever written - well, alongside Gorecki’s Third Symphony and Les Reed and Barry Mason’s anthemic “Marching on Together”.
Do you recall the scene in Pretty Woman where Richard Gere takes Julia Roberts to her first opera, La Traviata, and she weeps as Violetta dies of consumption and a broken heart? I love that ability of opera to transport you to a faraway place and time, to force you to focus and yet let the beauty of the music wash over you, and how it often rewards repeat viewing — no matter that you know the fat lady’s gonna get it in the end. Most of all I love the raw, unique power of the naked human voice to elicit our most intense emotions.
But there are two things I hate about opera: the prohibitive cost of tickets, and the snobbishness — both of which are encapsulated by the Royal Opera House’s astounding decision to make Wagner’s Ring cycle next year available only if you buy tickets for all four parts — at £1,000 for the good seats!
It’s the snobbishness that allows critics to put down perpetually the world’s most popular tenor, Andrea Bocelli ( interview p37), despite (or is it because of?) his 70 million album sales. If you don’t think you know who he is, then go to YouTube and listen to “Con Te Partiro”. It’s a classical crossover song of the kind snobs hate. And if — somehow — you are hearing it for the first time, I defy you first not to be moved, and then not to want to listen to more. Enjoy!