Opera 101

A crash course in how to love one of the most elusive art forms

From a 2017 performance of <em>Die Zauberflöte</em> in Halden, Norway (Flickr/jechstra)
From a 2017 performance of Die Zauberflöte in Halden, Norway (Flickr/jechstra)

Opera has a bad rap: it’s stuffy, long, convoluted, expensive, weird … and at the end of the day, who really understands sung Italian anyway? The barriers aren’t just financial: there are hundreds of years of musical history at work, along with dozens of arcane terms that defy pronunciation. But opera has been loved by ardent fans for centuries, and the experience of seeing it—once you know what to listen for—can be sublime. So we asked Vivien Schweitzer, a former classical music and opera critic for The New York Times, to teach us how to listen to opera.

Go beyond the episode:

Songs sampled during the episode:

For a taste of contemporary opera’s eclecticism, here are three examples:

Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek.

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Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


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