For many, the world of opera is intimidating and perplexing. It is one of etiquettes, foreign languages, and music from long ago. When can I clap? How will I know what they’re saying? Will I even be able to follow the plot?
Music student Heathcliffe Auchinachie who agreed to visit the Opera for One performance of Turandot for Limelight. Photograph supplied
These questions may be familiar to you if you’ve considered attending the opera for the first time. But perhaps a bigger concern for many is the prospect of having to attend by yourself. I’m sure there was a time when one could attend by themselves and neither they or anyone else would’ve considered this out of place. However, with modern society’s need for ceaseless communication and updates on people’s day to day lives, the idea of going to anything alone, never mind the opera, can be daunting – and understandably so.
Opera Australia conducted some research exploring this very issue. According to the survey, the number one thing that holds people back from attending is “No one to go with” as cited by 21 percent of those surveyed. Additionally, 76 percent of solo attendees said they are more likely to attend if there is a pre-show and private interval party. Thus Opera Australia has launched its Opera for One initiative. Promising not only complimentary drinks and nibbles, it also offers a talk by a member of the creative team, with the idea in mind of creating topics for conversation with those around you. I was fortunate enough to be able to go and see for myself the Opera for One experience before watching Turandot.
Before going further, it’s probably worth mentioning that despite studying and working as a classical musician, I’m no more familiar with the vast canon of opera than I am with the intricacies of cricket – and I only just discovered what an “over” is. In regards to Turandot, all I knew prior to a quick scan of the synopsis was that it was well known for its Nessun Dorma aria. So with this in mind, I was certainly very interested to see how successful Opera Australia would be at bringing in those people who perhaps aren’t quite comfortable attending alone.
The evening began with complimentary drinks and canapés in the Northern Foyer of the Joan Sutherland Theatre, with its wonderful view of Sydney Harbour. There were around ten of us; two other young men, one young woman and several older ladies. We were treated to a variety of wines, beers and sandwiches. I quickly took up conversation with a lady who remarked on how marvellous an idea she thought it was, mentioning that she attends the opera by herself quite frequently, and she’s always wanted to be able to talk to someone about it afterwards. As someone in their early 20s, attending the opera can be daunting purely because of the lack of presence from people of a similar age, so it’s exciting to see that something like this could in fact bring in younger audiences. Not long after, we were treated to a talk by assistant director Matthew Barclay, who answered some questions for us. I asked him how the tenor in the role of Prince Calaf deals with the pressure of having to perform Nessun Dorma, to which he replied that “some singers can’t deal with the pressure. You have to be a certain type of performer. This guy [Yonghoon Lee] loves the pressure, he thrives on it. He’s one of the best tenors in the world.”
Mariana Hong as Liù in Turandot. Photograph © Keith Saunders
After a bit more chatting and eating, we took our seats. It was an absolutely stunning production, with each element thought out and executed brilliantly. Lee as Prince Calaf really does deserve a special mention; his performance of Nessun Dorma was truly electrifying and deeply moving. I also happened to be seated in between two attendees of the pre-show drinks, and chatted during the interval at great length about the opera and our experiences as opera-goers.
Presented with the possibility of having to attend the opera all by themselves, it’s understandable that many would shy away. Having done it myself, one can feel incredibly conspicuous standing alone during interval with a drink in hand while those around you mingle and discuss the soprano or the stage design. So for Opera Australia to provide something for people who may not have anyone to go with is another step towards attracting audiences to an art form that does not necessarily thrive in a modern age. It’s not an exaggeration to say that all those that took part in Opera for One, including myself, felt it was a great success and I certainly would do it again.
The next Opera for One performances are Werther on February 28 and Salome on March 21
Heathcliffe Auchinachie is a student at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, The University of Sydney