When it comes to bel canto, might a microphone or two might help it come over a little more ‘con belto’?

Let’s talk about opera. The art form is in a lot of trouble around the world. It is expensive to mount, ticket prices are high. More and more young singers are  fighting for fewer and fewer roles in fewer and fewer productions of fewer and fewer operas. But does opera deliver enough bang for the very sizeable buck that it charges? Sometimes I think not.

Two experiences in London this week tellingly made the point. Last night I went to English National Opera’s Madam Butterfly. I was in stalls, row M, not too far from the stage, but the orchestra under Sir Richard Armstong was playing with such gusto that the singers fought to be heard in the vast auditorium. Butterfly and Pinkerton did their best to cut through the mighty orchestral soundtrack, but it reminded me of Buzz Lightyear’s comment in Toy Story– “that wasn’t singing, it was screaming with style”. At certain key moments, when the singers were at their most passionate, the director (the late Anthony Minghella) had them so far upstage that their...

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