John Snelson is the head of publishing and interpretation at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. He is therefore fully aware that opera-goers – whether regular or occasional – bring different attitudes to the works they have booked to experience.
Nowadays performers’ training encompasses far more than the ability to sing what the composer and librettist have written. They need to interpret each role in a manner which enhances its impact while staying true to the creators’ intentions and balancing this with the demands of the stage director, who may very well be primarily a man or woman of the spoken theatre, television or the cinema.
So this isn’t a beginner’s guide, listing operas by title or composer; there are many of these available. Nor is it a discography. Rather Snelson divides his main 212 pages into ten sections, grouping his subjects by voice types,duets, chorus and other ensembles and so on.
Nor does his range stop short with Berg and Britten. He gives as careful an analysis to the operas of Adams, Adès, Birtwistle and Turnage as to those of Mozart, Verdi or Wagner. Opera may be an international art form, but the point is well made that what is a rarity or British ears may well be completely familiar to opera-goers in other countries.
The changing role of the orchestra and its instruments, as well as the attitudes which different audiences have brought to performance is properly emphasised. Ballets in 19th century grand opera are often omitted in modern performance; here they are analysised and their role explained. I also liked the section on how actual historical events have been treated, so often due to censorship. But then, opera i a timeless art.
How To Enjoy Opera is published by Oberon Books at £12.99.