Opera is, simply put, theater where the dialogue is sung. The art form has been present for over three hundred years. It has evolved over that time in form and substance. During this time there has always been a fascination , curiosity, and commitment to it from composers, dramatists, singers, and musicians. This feeling can range from casual interest to profound dedication to the opera or to its components.
Dr. James Smith
To examine why one becomes interested or fully passionately involved with opera is a very difficult question to answer. Obviously there are many levels of involvement. From the creative aspect of the opera from composition production and participation there must be a love, commitment, and dedication to achieve ones goals. Likewise to the individuals involved one can assume that this is a passion is not only for the art form itself so to speak but also a commitment to the betterment of their talent to succeed. However for the purpose of this discussion I would prefer to examine my curiosity and enthusiasm from the viewpoint of a non-musician opera enthusiast.
For the majority of opera enthusiasts our passion so to speak is an evolution of an interest that began possibly in our youth or could have been from an exposure at any tour in their lives. Some how this interest grows. The reasons for that growth are countless in my opinion. Speaking for myself I can say that it began on a wet damp Sunday afternoon many years ago at a remote boarding high school when I saw the Movie with Mario Lanza called " The Great Caruso." I do not know what it was, but I enjoyed the music and the singing. As a point of interest, this situation has been has been described by many opera enthusiasts as well as many singers. My other previous exposure to opera was as a boy with my Swedish grandmother describing the great Swedish tenor Jussi Bjoerling singing on the Met broadcast on her kitchen radio. For others their interest probably began with their first opera performance.
From personal experience this interest has grown over forty years. However as I try to put these thoughts on paper I find that to try to explain WHY is very difficult to articulate. After many attempts to explain this I have come back always to the fact that I like the beauty of the Music and I like the sound of the classically trained human voice. Simply put I like the music and the arias and chorus. As a consequence this interest has spawned a large collection of LPs tapes and CDs. There are many duplicates of different artists singing the same operas or excerpts. As you can imagine these "collections" of say a few to all the available recordings of an Aida or Carmen burgeon the shelves of the passionate opera enthusiast. The reason gets back to a fundamental love of the performance and sounds of the various singers participating in the performances of my favorite operas. For me it is therefore the music itself and how the various voices interpret it and how they sound. This happens to be my explanation of why I like the opera.
Opera is musical theater. Many enthusiasts eagerly anticipate attending the opera performances locally and some travel afar to hear a favorite artist sing in a favorite role. This aspect is the culmination of the art form, that is a live stage performance. This has many beneficial aspects in that there is the spectacle and the drama accompanied by the music and the singing. Well done productions with excellent singers is the culmination of the art form.
Another aspect to consider is that some operas are more popular and performed more frequently than others. Why? It is because they have more beautiful music and singing than others. My preference is 19th and early 20th century Italian, French, German and Russian opera. It is a matter of taste. Baroque and Later atonal music as well as modern compositions do not hold any interest for me despite attempts to listen. Again it gets back to my point, It is the music and the singing.
Often the story of the drama is criticized because it is silly or that the words do not make sense. Additional criticism arises when one considers that the greatest operas are written in a foreign language. This does not dampen my enthusiasm for the opera or aria because it is the music and the sound of the voices that most make it popular. The addition of supertitles in the past ten years or so has softened the criticism of not being able to follow the dialogue. Supertitles are projected above the stage providing a running translation of the opera for the audience. Frankly they can be a distraction to some but probably have been the single most important contribution to the increase in opera attendance in the United States.
Opera too is considered a passionate art form in itself. The stories are often of love and strife and death. Link that to the passion of opera audiences themselves as they cheer or boo their favorite operas and singers. When viewed collectively Opera is passion, in its conception, production, execution, and reception.