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My very first night at the opera – before and after

Evan Dickerson asked his girlfriend Beverley Phillips out to the opera. She had never been before and was a bit daunted by it. ‘It’s always seemed elitist, expensive, hard work and scary,’ she said. So, at the request of Slipped Disc Evan, an operagoer of 25 years standing, interviewed Beverley before and after her very first opera – Wagner’s Flying Dutchman at English National Opera.


Evan: You’re about to experience your first fully staged opera, give me a flavour of your musical tastes and experiences?

Beverley: I listen to lots of different types of music. I’ve loved Jazz from an early age but at the same time have always listened to Pop, Rock, Indie and Country. I gone to number of gigs/concerts over the years  and love the experience of live music. I absolutely love musicals, West Side Story is my favourite. I also love ballet, and recently saw English National Ballet dance Stravinsky and Debussy.

Evan: Why haven’t you been to see an opera before?

Beverley: It’s always seemed elitist, expensive, hard work and scary. Also, growing up I wasn’t really exposed to opera and only ever listened to it on the radio which can be difficult especially if you don’t know the story behind a piece of work or if it’s an unfamiliar language.

Evan: How do you feel about seeing an opera for the first time?

Beverley: I’m really excited! I’m looking forward to the whole experience; the theatre, the audience, the set and obviously the music and singing.

Evan: Based on anything you’ve heard, what’s your impression of Wagner’s music?

Beverley: I always had the impression that Wagner’s music is long, dramatic, rousing, complex and mythical.

Evan: Before going, how did you find out about the work?

Beverley: I didn’t want to listen to the piece before the performance as I wanted to listen with fresh ears but I read the synopsis to acquaint myself with the story of The Flying Dutchman.


Evan: Having seen the opera now, what is your reaction?

Beverley: I absolutely loved it. The set was magnificent and almost magical in the way it changed seamlessly and  by slight of hand from one scene to another. The opening was so atmospheric, I really had the feeling that I was in a raging storm out at sea.   The Dutchman was dark and menacing and his deep baritone voice conveyed that beautifully. Senta was convincingly portrayed as obsessed, and processed by her yearnings for the Dutchman. I loved the modern interpretation of the set. The party scene with the whole chorus was hilarious. I never been to a party with a giant inflated banana and palm tree – I’ve obviously been missing out!

Evan: Is going to the opera anything like you thought it would be?

Beverley: It wasn’t a stuffy affair and now that I’ve experienced my first opera I’m keen to go to another. I’m only sorry I hadn’t gone before. The buzz of the audience on the opening night and the anticipation they had was exciting but not everyone felt it: there was a guy a few seats away who snored his way through the first half of the second act!

Evan: Which aspects of it did you most and least like?

Beverley: The story was very dramatic and  tragic, everything I expected from Wagner.  The staging was really great. I was transported into another world. I loved to chorus and even though it was sung in English it was sometimes difficult to really hear the text, this was unfortunately the case with Senta’s part.

Evan: What about the attitude of other audience towards the music?

Beverley: Obviously, completely different from going to a concert. The audience seemed focused. Everyone was still but I’m sure they were moved by the music and singing.

Evan: Are you tempted to see more operas in the future?

Beverley: Most definitely yes!!! I only wish I went to see Aida at Earl Court several years ago. There are a few operas at the Proms this year so maybe they’ll be next.


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  1. This is great – it makes the point very well – I hope lots of people read it!

    However this made me laugh: “[Opera has] always seemed elitist, expensive, hard work and scary” – this is from someone who says they’re a jazz fan! I’ve been tutted at for all kinds of things in jazz clubs that people wouldn’t bat an eyelid about in an opera house or concert hall… and woe betide if you try to speak “jazz” and don’t know the obscurest corners of the repertoire.

  2. tiredofitall says:

    Fabulous! What a great read.
    Take note, all you whiners and apologists for that Frankenstein of a musical genre, “Classical Crossover”.
    Opera doesn’t need to be dumbed down by the likes of Jackie Evancho and Katherine Jenkins to make it accessible and palatable for the masses.
    For anyone open-minded and open-eared enough to give it a try, you can experience and be bowled over by the power of the Real Thing in its pure, undiluted form.

    • Using terminology like “the masses” immediately suggests a certain level of snobbery that is really damaging to classical music, in my opinion, and explains why it is perceived as elitist and scary. It’s an old point, but why is it that so many of my friends won’t come to a concert or an opera, when they go to galleries, the theatre, and other art? Because they think classical music people will judge them if they don’t know enough.

      And what’s wrong with letting people listen to what they want? If ‘the real thing’ is so far superior then classical crossover wouldn’t be so popular – but obviously classical crossover has a valid place given a lot of people like it. It’s a matter of taste – I would prefer one type of music, but others may have different tastes – why is my taste necessarily better than theirs? If someone prefers Katherine Jenkins to, say, the Symphony of Psalms, what’s wrong with that, and why should their preferences be rejected as impure and diluted? And then we wonder why people feel intimidated!

      Sorry, tiredofitall, I don’t mean to be rude. I agree with your point that opera *can* appeal to everyone, but don’t think it *necessarily* is to be more appealing than other forms for all people!

      • tiredofitall says:

        Tim, why should I take your comments to be rude?
        If people like Katherine Jenkins and Jackie Evancho and want to buy their records and go to their concerts, they perfectly entitled to.
        If you read the countless entries by supporters of Jenkins and Evancho elsewhere on this blog, you’ll know why I phrased my comment the way I did.

    • Allow me to help you out with this…

      Opera is a stage play where actors trumpet lines of script up to the rafters… unamplified.

      Ms. Evancho sings with amplification… she has never performed in an opera, and doesn’t plan to. She has never claimed affiliation to opera… that has always been left to folks like you, that guy Lebrecht and his ilk.

      Pay attention, for this will serve you well into the future… singing, and singing operatically are worlds apart… one has nothing to do with the other.

      She does sing songs that may coincidentally be performed in an opera… but to invoke Ms. Evancho in a discussion of opera would be to confuse that fine distinction… and that would be… ‘uninformed’.

      As for the reasons for the continuing decline in the appeal of songs performed operatically, and the fact that twelve year old Ms. Evancho was the best selling Classical artist for 2011… hard to say… the public continues to turn away from the severe and self-aggrandizing nature of songs performed operatically.

      Whatever the reason, it is exactly… exactly… the same as why major network TV shows like ‘Dancing With The Stars’ draws 20 million viewers, and you couldn’t PAY the public to watch professional ballroom dancing on some obscure triple digit public access cable channel.

      With opera it’s all about vocal gymnastics and inflating the Diva. With Ms. Evancho it is all about the song, the lyrics, and the emotion. Clearly, that is what sells albums and tickets… write that down.

      • This type of comment is why “tiredofitall” commented as he did (please excuse me if I have misstated gender!).

        Still, I think we must be careful not to believe people like this represent the majority.

        There are over 300 million people in the United States. Ten million people attended an HD Live presentation from New York’s Metropolitan Opera this season. Millions more attended live productions throughout the United States. Millions more attended live productions and HD productions throughout the world. He and others have trumpeted the fact that Ms. Evancho has sold 2 million CD units.

        I would suggest that accessibility of something on popular television shows or in magazines does not necessarily equal larger popularity per se. There are artists to whom I am subjected repeatedly on television and yet they cannot sell a concert, while others are barely seen and do. Good publicity machines can create the suggestion of success, but success is relative depending on the measure used.

        I should add that I feel Ms. Evancho is very successful within her industry and believe she will likely continue to be for several more years. After that, we shall see.

      • Chuck, thanks for a long and hearty belly laugh!

        “With Ms. Evancho it is all about the song, the lyrics, and the emotion.”

        That line is just priceless and will live forever in the annals of music history.

      • jackieforpresident says:

        Please Chuck Yates could you provide any statistics to back up your statement that “the public” (whoever they are) are “turning their back” on opera?
        I’d be intrigued to know what evidence you base your nonsensical statement on.

  3. Sixtus Beckmesser says:

    I teach at a small liberal arts college not far from a major city (with a major opera house), and often take groups of students to see operas. Like Beverly, most of them have never attended a live opera before, and afterwards most have reactions similar to Beverly’s — they love it. I can’t wait to share this post with my students next year; we’re going to see Die Meistersinger!

  4. Thank you to Evan and Beverly! This is the type of reaction I have received from most of those whom I have taken to an opera for the first time. Some, naturally, do not enjoy it, just as I do not enjoy some forms of art and some types of music.

  5. Listening to the Flying Dutchman is like watching Shirley temple doing the clog dance in one of her movies from the 30s. Except that Wagner’s score isn’t nearly as cute.

    If Beverley liked that one, it will only get better for her (until she attends a performance of Gotterdammerung or Wozzeck).

    You roc…er…operate, Beverley.

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