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Opera? Silly? You’d think a 400-year- old art form adored by millions, which brings lumps to throats and makes the hairs stand up on your arms, deserves more respect. And I do. Honestly. I’d be the first to admit to a passion verging on the obsessive. But opera has a dark secret. Stop reading now if you don’t want to know this, but opera is silly. Nay, sometimes it is very silly. It inhabits a world where people sing instead of speaking, where innocent bystanders are apt to form flash-mob-style choruses, and where a person can take ten minutes to sing their lungs out before they expire, no matter how deadly the wound or how advanced the respiratory disease.
Opera and outrageous plots go hand in hand: babies switched at birth; poisons that turn out to be love potions (or vice versa); a world of cross-dressing so confusing you find men singing with women’s voices playing women disguised as men.
There are plenty of examples in the standard repertoire: Il Trovatore, Così fan tutte, Adriana Lecouvreur. Many nowadays find it hard to understand how you can throw the wrong baby on the fire (indeed some might think throwing any baby on a fire is a little out of the ordinary). How many of us wouldn’t recognise our own fiancé if he walked in wearing no more cunning a disguise than a fancy jacket and a false moustache? And have any of your acquaintances ever died from sniffing a bunch of poisoned violets?
But dig a little deeper and you quickly discover these plots are tame. In the silly opera stakes they are also-rans: opera-lite, so to speak. Prepare to take a walk on the wilder side, where anything can happen and the show’s not over until the fat lady’s swept to her death by an avalanche.