Classical music, especially opera, is a far more accessible medium than it gets credit for. These apologetic letters began by containing the adventures and misadventures of four opera students that lived in one side of a townhouse shared with our neighbor, dubbed Miss Purdy.
Sometimes we would sit up late at night (obviously after rehearsals) and joke about what she thought we were up to. We crafted our apologies, deciding we owed her some explanation for the strange happenings that occurred across our shared wall.
Since 2015, the four opera students have gone their separate ways, but are still friends. Now, Dear Miss Purdy is geared towards sharing classical music with the world, making all of you readers our new “Miss Purdy”.
And… we’re sorry for what you’re about to experience.
Opera is OLD. When the first opera premiered at the end of the 16th century, it was novel and amazing and blew the minds of 16th century audiences. The idea that story telling could be done completely accompanied with emphasis on text and emotion was wild! A modern equivalent would be when we moved from silent movies to talking pictures. Or even more recently, personal phones replacing every piece of technology created for personal use in the last century. And as opera singers, we have had to adapt. More companies and programs are requiring pieces of musical theatre repertoire to be offered as well as spoken dialogue. The genre is changing and so are the performers coming into the field.
Why continue doing it? If it’s so old? Won’t opera end?
I believe it was W.H. Auden who said “If opera were mortal, it would be dead”, meaning that the genre didn’t exist simply to serve its time period or the people of its early days, but that it was meant to change as the times did. It’s why there are operas being made still to this day. For example, there’s an opera about the late Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith (Anna Nicole by Mark-Anthony Turnage), an adaptation of The Shining (Paul Moravec), and Everest (Joby Talbot) based off the events from the book Into Thin Air which were also depicted in the 2015 film, Everest. That’s pretty cool! Why put an end to that?
Now, why do opera?
This is a question that we are asked frequently. Like, ALL THE TIME. We always give people the same answer. Singing opera is being a part of something that is larger than me, myself, and I. The idea of one person, the composer, gave birth to something much larger than their self. They were inspired by a story, used the author’s words to bring that story to life which in turn gave work to instrumentalists, conductors, stage tech, directors, producers, and singers. Have you ever read a really good book? And although it took you only a few days or weeks to read it, it left you feeling like you had lived an entirely other life outside of your own? That’s what we do. In just a few hours, an entire audience has suddenly lived a new life and learned what it was like to be a Norse God or a servant in a palace or a simple artist looking for love. When we are experiencing opera, we are living in moments of history (think of it like a time machine if you will).
Not only are we transporting an audience into the past, but we study like crazy to make it appear as if it were the easiest thing in the world. Opera is the culmination of everything we’ve learned in our lives. It is history, languages, anatomy, acoustics, math, and literature. You’re also trained in music theory, history, and score study. On top of that, you must act, be talented, vulnerable, and emotional.
We choose opera because when the music starts, time stops.