I began the endeavor almost entirely from scratch. I bought the least expensive ticket each of the seven or eight times I’ve attended an operatic production. While they’re not legitimate substitutes for attending live events, the Met’s archived broadcasts offer closeups of the performers and tantalizing glimpses of the action backstage. I studiously read the digital programs, consult outside materials and augment each production with supplemental listening sessions.
Even though it’s sometimes a slog, working my way through even the most tedious operas gives me a sense of purpose and fills the enormous void left by the moratorium on live music. And the glacial pace, decadent length and over-the-top melodrama associated with the form suits the strained atmosphere of the quarantine. I’ve come to adore opera’s disarming lustiness, high body count and vocal caterwauling.
The treasure trove of free streams allows me to admire the work of stars including Jessye Norman, Luciano Pavarotti and Leontyne Price, marvel at opera’s evolution from stationary belters to athletic vocalists and learn the context of popular arias like "Pagliacci"’s “Vesti la Giubba”.
I haven’t been at it long enough to cultivate a distinct sense of my personal taste, but I was moved by the striking modernity of Nico Muhly’s “Marnie”, stirred by Natalie Dessay’s ravishing portrayal of Violetta in Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” and floored by Anthony Dean Griffey acting in the title role of Benjamin Britten’s disturbing “Peter Grimes.”
A date once asked me what types of music I liked. I told her that I loved “everything but opera.” The trivial exchange stuck with me because I loathed myself for speaking out of ignorance. I didn’t even know “Le Nozze di Figaro” existed. Had I somehow been able to see and hear Cecilia Bartoli and Bryn Terfel perform Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s shockingly coarse work when I was a girl-crazy 17-year-old, my life might have turned out entirely differently.
(Screenshot of the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Richard Strauss’ “Capriccio” by There Stands the Glass.)