Opera’s grandness is one of its best qualities — and also one of its most intimidating. The stage is crowded with singers, props, fabulous costumes and scenery. A live orchestra accompanies them as they generate a vast cascade of notes, often in a foreign language.
The opera-going experience also conjures up images of hoity-toity wealthy people, dressed to the nines, sitting in posh theater boxes and peering through opera glasses (though that cliché is less true these days than it used to be).
But opera’s rich complexity can also be a lot of fun: With multiple things happening at any given time, there’s always something to watch. And opera is a great chance to dress up and have a glamorous night out.
As they work to draw in broader audiences and throw off their stodgy reputation, opera companies stress that you get to define what a glamorous night, and even what opera itself, means to you.
For the uninitiated, here’s how to find your way into the lavish energy of opera.
Seattle Opera is one of the nation’s largest and most respected opera companies. But local opera goes far beyond McCaw Hall. Groups of all sizes and budgets produce work locally, often at low cost.
The Live Music Project website, which tracks many kinds of music, lists upcoming opera performances on its calendar. You can find everything from early opera at Pacific MusicWorks to cutting-edge modern opera at universities.
For an easy introduction, try signing up for the Groupmuse or Opera On Tap email lists. Groupmuse hosts performers in volunteers’ living rooms and other intimate spaces, while Opera On Tap brings classically trained singers into, yes, actual bars to perform for relaxed audiences.
The region’s universities, including the University of Washington, put on opera performances ranging from inexpensive to free.
UW students put on a public performance every quarter — usually individual or small-group performances, said Deanne Meek, a professional opera singer and visiting artist in the Vocal Theatre Works program. Those are usually individual or small-group performances, but they recently staged a more ambitious project: the Seattle premiere of Philip Glass’s modern “Hydrogen Jukebox,” with a social-commentary libretto by Allen Ginsberg.
Meek, a Tri-Cities native whose career has taken her around the world, said the local scene is “very vibrant and vital, and there are many committed artists out there. They’re not making a lot of money, but they’re making it happen.” (continued)