Off The Scale

Last Monday was World Opera Day, so I’m writing here about opera – another in my occasional series of posts highlighting particular music genres and how they might boost wellbeing in different ways. I’ve already considered musicals, ballet, folk and jazz – now it’s opera’s turn.

Photo by Rijan Hamidovic on

Opera is high drama. Costumes, sets and lighting all build atmosphere, and the singing & plot transport this to another level. Most operas run through diverse emotions, from despair to hope, joy to horror, rage to exhilaration. There are few half measures in opera, it’s all about extremes.

Maybe this is one way opera might help wellbeing – by exploring mood and emotion and raising them to be the focus of performance. There’s no question of reining in emotion, of the stiff upper lip or of bottling up your feelings. Emotions in opera can be off the scale. This might be liberating to watch, to hear or to perform: an opportunity to open up as you respond. You could try this and see – search opera on You Tube maybe, and see how watching and listening make you feel. Obviously opera’s impact will depend on the opera, the hearer and the time – as our moods alter, we might respond to an opera differently from one time to another.

Opera could also be an escape, time out from the everyday in a very different setting. While new operas go on being written, many of the most famous have stood the test of time and now present to us an unfamiliar world. They are also set in different countries and sung in different languages. And opera is all about contrasts: tragedy vs. comedy, fantasy vs. reality, solos vs. chorus.

Like ballet and musical theatre, opera combines music with plot, drama and visual stimulus, so its multi-sensory, which can help wellbeing. This is particularly true for people who have autism or SEN.

Opera is a crowd or group art form. Composer and writer work together on the score and libretto, before many more people contribute to the final production and to each performance. And if you attend a performance in person, you experience opera alongside others as part of an audience. The way so many people missed the audience experience when theatres were closed during the pandemic illustrates just how important it is for many to feel united with others as they share a performance.

To some people, opera’s links with wealth, and the glamour and fame o great opera houses and opera singers, make it all the more of an escape from the everyday. For others, it might make opera seem too exclusive, a closed world. Only recently have live streamings widened opportunities to attend opera. Another possible barrier could be that some of us find operas too long. Sitting through an opera might improve concentration an dfocus in the long run, but it first requires patience.

A final thought – there’s also operetta or light opera, more comic and maybe less intense. This is also an escape or refuge for people and a chance to unwind. Laughter can be the best medicine as they say.

It would be great if you would like to share any thoughts on opera and wellbeing in Medley’s Facebook group Thank you!

Published by medleyisobel

My name is Isobel and I run Medley, an online initiative sharing art, nature and music for health and wellbeing.

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