Is Opera the Answer?

If there’s one thing that almost everyone can agree on, it’s that you should study the plot of an opera before you see it or listen to it. Let’s face it: operas have plots so convoluted that even people who can effortlessly hold in their heads the workings of the universe, multiple conflicting conspiracy theories, or the character motivations of every character in every cable television series ever made simultaneously, need a little preparation beforehand. Characters who simply exchange clothing become indistinguishable from the person whose former clothes they are wearing; villains turn out to be heroes; innocents turn out to be schemers, and all the while you’re supposed to follow not only the main plot, but multiple subplots, while dozens of singers and instrumentalists, guided by the commands of a (usually) long-dead mastermind, are purposely trying, to the utmost of their ability, to mislead and distract you.

Renowned singer Leontyne Price as Cleopatra at the Metropolitan Opera in New York

Singer Leontyne Price in opera Antony and Cleopatra at the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera
Michael Rougier

Yet, it’s this very convolution which makes opera so valuable, above and beyond its beauty in music. Opera plots teach us many important lessons that are well-suited to solving real-life problems, even as we enter ever-increasing complexity in modern life. Don’t believe it? Let’s take a look:

  • Look beyond just the clothes and manner of the person to seek out their true character and motivations;
  • Power and position are often misapplied for evil purposes;
  • Even the most evil people can have redeeming qualities, if only their superb voices;
  • The most minor character has a vital role to play;
  • The most physically uninspiring person can have enormous talent;
  • Things might not be what they seem, and when you examine them more closely, they still might not be what they seem;
  • Life is complicated;
  • Love is complicated;
  • Dozens of people may suddenly appear from the woodwork at a critical point to complicate things even further;
  • There’s nothing like taking a little break from the problem to muse over it, preferably with musical accompaniment;
  • Everyone gets their turn center stage;
  • Everyone gets acknowledged for their hard work at the end;
  • Like a lot of things called “opera,” words can be applied to things they are not, and confused with the real thing;
  • While things may look organized to the casual observer, behind the scenes all is usually chaos;
  • No matter how labyrinthine a situation is, some development can turn up to make it even more baroque; and,
  • With a little harmony, even the most thorny problems may turn out to have a happy ending.

Now, aren’t these lessons we wish everyone could learn?

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