Opera: Why Not?

January 30, 2016
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By Mae Anthony

I sat down with Katherine Goyder and Louis Hurley, WAAPA Classical Vocal graduates and creators and editors of The O Word to talk about their blog and where they think Opera can take us.

What is the O-Word and how does it work?
Katherine Goyder: The O-word is a blog that posts weekly to bi-weekly about anything opera-related that we think the world needs to know. We post every Sunday, and sometimes during the week. Recently we have come up with a few themes. One theme is called Vocal Voyages, where we talk to a Perth or Australian performer who is training overseas. It’s great because it gives us the chance to share things that singers, especially undergrads, don’t know about. It also lets other people know what Australian musicians are doing.
Louis Hurley: We hope to express that we have the same experiences as everyone in the hope to abolish the snooty vibes people associate with Opera. The aim of the blog is to get the “O word” out there and to introduce and educate people about the art form.
KG: We hope to guide people who don’t understand how to get into it. People think that with classical music that once you’ve heard one thing you’ve heard it all, but it’s not the case! I think people have to think about it in terms of genres like you do with films. It is important to understand that when you watch an opera that knowing its type is essential. You’re not going to see La Boheme to see a comedy, and you’re also going to be listening to a full-piece orchestra and it’s going to be dramatic and upsetting; but when you see Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, you’re going to be introduced to older style instruments and it’s going to be funny and relatable.
LH: You’re not going to go to a movie and not enjoy it and say “I don’t like all movies”. So people shouldn’t do it with opera. It’s important to know, that we don’t want to be patronising and we don’t want to claim that Opera is the “best”.
KG: Oh definitely not. We don’t want to claim Opera is the “best” or anything, we just want to give it the go it deserves.

When did you guys come up with this and what inspired it?
LH: I’d say it was a combination of events, one of them was during the opera that we were involved in, which was WAAPA’s showing of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The other event was our attendance at a brunch put on by Opera Lovers with Brad Cohen, who is a highly respected conductor and the current (recently appointed) artistic director of WA Opera. He talked about how Opera seems to be dying out and how we really need to be creating some kind of revolution.
KG: He was talking about how if you put the word “opera” in the title of a show it is likely to sell less. We were sitting there thinking “wow, that’s a thing?”
LH: As if opera has become a toxic word or something.
KG: One night I went to see an opera, and there were some people in front of me who had clearly never been to an opera before and it was evident that they weren’t willing to give it a chance. You have to keep an open mind. We came up with the idea [of the blog] during October, but we didn’t get things going until the end of recital season, so the blog wasn’t live until late November (2015).
LH: Deciding on the name was difficult. Kate came up with all these terrible puns.
KG: Like Opera-tunity, Getting Bizet, Blopera. Louis even came up with “Opera-Winfrey”. We knew after listening to Brad Cohen that it was going to be called the “O Word” because it’s mysterious and intriguing.

How many writers do you have for the blog and what are they up to?
KG: Louis and I like to think of us as writers and editors. We also have Ry Charleston (who completed his grad-dip in 2015) and Emma Ashton (who completed her bachelor in 2015). All of our writers thus far have been classical singers. We don’t want this to remain the case as we’d like to have other people who are involved in opera write for us. We don’t have an “exact” number of writers, we want to see it expand. We’d like to have variation in what we are producing.
LH: For example, we’d love to do something like “The Day in the Life of a Pit Musician.” We also hope to talk to people who are working all over the world whenever possible.

What is it like contacting people in your industry around Perth to talk about Opera?
KG: Everyone is very approachable and happy to share their experiences with us. Our slogan for The O Word is “amateur writers, passionate musicians”. I explain to people that I am not a writer (well by trade anyway) but I am a singer at WAAPA, and when I contact people their response is always warm and cooperative.
LH: Everyone is easy to get in contact with and willing to help. There’s also the WAAPA lecturers who are so inspiring and keen to get involved in things. They have much wisdom to share and it surprises me that people don’t take advantage of the assets that WAAPA offers.
KG: Just talking to the teachers at WAAPA, listening to the experiences they’ve lived, and hearing all these stories. It’s comforting to find that they have all been through what you’re going through.

What is the most exciting part of running this blog for you?
LH: Hearing what people have to say. You might never have thought of a certain angle or way of looking at things, and you can use it to help yourself and each other. It’s cemented what I have known all along about wanting to do music professionally.
KG: My favourite thing so far is the way it has created a strong foundation for me into the opera and classical world and what I do. And not only has it helped me understand my opinions better, but also the opinions of others.
KG: There are some things we can’t say at our age and with our limited experience through the work we do. We don’t have the technique and the capability to fully show everything we would like to our audience just yet, because it takes years to develop. The O Word gives me a chance to show the world why I’m doing this, which is overwhelming for me.

Opera is a great art-form that has existed for hundreds of years but why do you think we need it now?
LH: When I tell people what I do and why I do it, I talk about how music is such a huge expression of emotion. Opera is high-stakes singing, emotion and drama and it needs to continue to be supported in society because it’s unique. It’s used in advertising, and everyone knows what opera is and I think if something is so heavily involved in public collective conscious then they should give it a chance.
KG: It’s cheaper to go to the opera than it is to go to the footy. I don’t think Opera is more important than any other art-form, but what shows you history better than music? We have architecture, letters and other artefacts from history that have shown us so much about the world, but Opera has reflected upon change in society, culture, and the physical world. What you learn from Opera, that you can’t learn from architecture and paintings, is how similar people of history were to us.

Do you think there are any benefits of opera for university students in particular?
I think that people should go for it because now is the time to be open-minded. Don’t experiment sexually, experiment theatrically.
I’d love it if people would message our Facebook page asking about a show and what to expect. So say someone messages in saying “I’m going to see La Bohème tonight, what should I expect?” We would reply with something like “It’s not going to be happy, but at the same time there’s going to be lots of drugs, lots of alcohol, and lots of sex, someone’s going to fall in love and it’s going to be a wild show.”
LH: It is the job of the educated to tell people these things and to do it gladly. We would love it if people would do this. Opera is just sex, death and politics. So why not check it out?

Go to their website or their facebook to find out more.

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