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.