Have you ever seen an opera?



Have you ever seen an opera?  I can thoroughly recommend it.  It’s like a good play but with great music too.  The music helps to bring out the emotional highs and lows of each character.  You can sit back and enjoy the scenery and the oh so clever props and costumes.


You may think that it’s highbrow but the plots tend to be more straightforward than many modern plays and still deal with the essential themes of life, such as love, fidelity, hope, despair, selfishness and revenge.  So, it’s not that you won’t be able to follow the plot.  In any case, the programme always has a little precis.


Opera is often sung in the language it was composed in, frequently Italian or German, which again, may make you think it’s too complicated if you are not a fluent linguist.  But in every modern opera house there are supertitles above the stage, which translate the words being sung into English, phrase by phrase.  No problem there then.


Tickets can be rather pricey but if you are prepared to sit further back, to stand or lean for the performance, then a seat can be yours for a mere £20 or so.  So what’s not to like?


Last week we went to an opera experience which was memorable on all fronts.  We arrived early and this is what we found.  Picnic hamper; check.  Table laid with white cloth; check.  Beautiful landscaped gardens with lake and bridge; check.  Husband, brother-in-law and his wife; check.  We had gathered to celebrate the birthdays of the two brothers, conveniently only 10 days apart.  The gardens were filling up with chaps dressed in black tie and women in fancy dresses long and short.  Glyndebourne has a reputation for being a very individual, quintessentially English venue for opera.  And it lives up to its reputation.


What do you think we did first having found our allotted table in the grounds?  We found a cup of tea that’s what!  How much more English can you get?  Although my American sister-in-law did have coffee…  We raided the picnic hamper for plates and cutlery and cut into the birthday cake I had brought along.  We sat in the sunshine, watching the procession of different dresses and evening wear parade through the gardens.  There were all sorts, from a short velvet dress, a halter neck long dress with a train, loose dresses,  fitted dresses or even trousers, with a jacket, wrap or stole for extra warmth.  The men rang the changes from a straight dinner suit by wearing a kilt, adding a cummerbund, white jacket or coloured bow tie.  In view of the warm weather there were quite a few panama type hats in circulation too.


The tradition at Glyndebourne is to have one long interval between the acts and give everyone time to eat at one of the restaurants or picnic in the grounds.  You can buy their picnic or take your own.  It’s all super-organised, there’s lots of information on line to help you plan what to do.  Now I love going to the opera but you do usually have to eat really early beforehand and then you’re a bit hungry again afterwards.  So an opera which stops especially so that you can have some supper, is right up my street.


We had ordered a picnic and after the first act, it was waiting for us in a cool bag beside our table on the lawn.  We toasted the birthday chaps and then enjoyed our quiche and salad.     The description was more flowery than that but you get what I mean.  We were so lucky to have good weather and it was magical to eat outside in such beautiful surroundings as the sun went down.  Mmmm, I had been wondering what else I might like.  But the picnic providers had already anticipated my every need and provided coffee and a chocolate before we went back in to enjoy the second half.


Which opera did we see?  It was The Barber of Seville by Rossini, full of misunderstandings  which are resolved, so that the course of love runs true, in time-honoured fashion.  The cast and splendid orchestra were top quality.  The scenery was carefully chosen to evoke southern Spain and Rossini’s music was lively and demanded my attention from the first to the last note.


If you decide to try out an opera, not all come with picnic facilities.   But don’t let that put you off.  I dare you to try one.








Luckily our neighbours are elderly and not prone to complaining about the sounds which emanate from our house.  This afternoon it was the painfully slow sight-reading of the Toreador’s song from Carmen, being picked on the ukulele and with an accompaniment on the tin whistle.  There’s the counting to four business, to keep in time and then there are the notes.  When one of us found the right note, the other was inevitably ahead or behind, what a cacophony!  Still we have several weeks yet before we have to get up to the right speed.  So we shall practise our parts separately and then put them together, going slowly over each section until it is ready and then finally speeding up the tempo.


The BBC’s mission is ‘to enrich people’s lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain.’  This music-making of ours comes firmly under the educate umbrella as it is part of the BBC’s Get Playing campaign.  I read about it online and having looked at the website, wondered if I should be leaving this to the kids.  But no, I found a caveat which says that you must be over 16, for which I more than qualify, as does my husband.  Hooray!  Finally something interesting which is aimed at my age group and one of my interests.  The idea is for amateur musicians, playing a huge variety of instruments from bagpipes to sitar, to download the music, practise at home and then record their contribution, keeping in time with the conductor (the world renowned Marin Alsop).  The techhies at the BBC will then put together all the video recordings, presumably balance out the sounds in case there are 5,000 violins and no double basses, and then the three minute sequence of virtual orchestra will be played as part of the Last Night of the Proms at the end of August.


I think it’s a splendid idea and I would much rather take part in this way than take part by voting in the X Factor or The Voice.  It seems that every programme you watch or listen to nowadays is begging you to get in touch.  Whether it’s Springwatch, the weather or Womans’ Hour on Radio 4 all they keep nagging on about is, ‘get in touch’ by email, tweet or facebook.  Quite frankly, when I’m watching TV or listening to the radio, it’s downtime and the last thing I want to do is get in touch with the presenters or the programme makers.  I just want them to entertain me, is that OK?  On some shows they even spend time reading out comments that have been sent in.  What a waste of time.  If a section of a programme has already dealt with a topic, then I would assume that coverage has been thorough and even-handed.  What I don’t then need is further comment from Joe from Manchester, to hear what he thinks.    And, while I take seriously my responsibility to vote in general and local elections, please don’t ever ask me to vote about anything at all on the television.  ‘The box’ is for my pleasure and entertainment, not for me to hear two pennyworth of opinion from all and sundry.  It’s just laziness from the programme makers which encourages this pretend ‘let’s involve the audience’.

That said, I think it will be fun to get involved in Get Playing by practising and may be eventually recording a contribution.  Lord Reith, the founder of the BBC, believed in public service broadcasting and this will involve us directly in musical activity and connect us to hundreds or thousands of like-minded people.   I look forward to watching the final combined performance as entertainment, where I sit and watch and the BBC entertains me, even if I did play a tiny part in the music-making. Just don’t ask me to vote for the best player/musical piece/recording!