Students, opera, and the myth of incompatibility


Opera. Etymological roots in ‘work’. Something all Oxonians – nay, all students – can at least feign passing familiarity with. Yet still the vast majority of us (read: at least three of my friends, I asked them) tend to balk at the thought of taking an evening off to sample some Puccini.

When it comes to drama, most of us will drag ourselves down to the Playhouse once a term, because our best friend/roommate/tute partner/college spouse is the producer/director/lead role/stage manager/deputy assistant lighting designer in a student production and we have an ethical duty to lavish praise upon them. And occasionally we might really push the boat out and go to a play just because it looks interesting. But a lot of us literally never try out anything more adventurous. And, damn it all, I think that’s a shame.

It would be so easy to be really sanctimonious here, to insist that something like opera is important because it’s more sophisticated or more intelligent than ordinary theatre (whatever that even means). But no. That would be disingenuous and also probably a lie. Opera is to classical drama what musicals are to modernity: frequently far too dramatic, far too grand, and – just sometimes – absolutely hilarious. High comedy, high tragedy, high notes. And it’s not like they’re hard to find in Oxford, either: the New Theatre is a popular venue for touring productions, Oxford Operatic Society are often known to grace the Playhouse stage, and the new Heartstrings company do flashmobs and cocktail events. Sold.

“Ah, but I can’t afford it!” I hear you cry. “But I have to spend money on food and clothes and burying my degree in Bridge,” you sob.

False. Opera is absurdly cheap – if you know where to look. For each performance, the Welsh National Opera offer 50 tickets for under-30s at £5. Five pounds. FIVE. Seats in the top three price bands (i.e. worth £40 or £50), too. The English National Opera have a less generous but more comprehensive scheme: if you sign up (for free), you can book two tickets – programmes included! – for £26. Programmes are normally about a fiver, so this means the ticket costs about £7. Also, the scheme is called Access All Arias. Which is hilarious.

In fact, almost all production companies or venues will offer students inordinately good deals on opera performances, although they’re often not very well-advertised, so it’s certainly worth scouting around to see what you can snap up. Alternatively, review it for us and we’ll see if we can’t get you a press comp. Hint hint. But really, cost is often less of a barrier than it is when you want to go to the cinema. Yes, that’s aimed at you, Odeon.

Opera really doesn’t have to be a grand affair, either: dressing up isn’t compulsory unless it’s Covent Garden (and, by the way, the ROH does standby student tickets for £10. So there). But most of the time, people rock up in anything from battered jeans to gowns and furs – you can pretty much wear what you like. Also, there’s the fact that – whilst operas can certainly be lengthy – they tend to finish at exactly the right time to go out afterwards. There’s not even the requirement to play catch-up, because you can get wine in the interval(s). Not that I’m suggesting you booze your way through the finale, but at least it’ll make the obligatory sobs at Carmen’s plight look authentic.

The gauntlet is thrown down: take the plunge. If it’s a good one you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll definitely have a better night than you would’ve if you’d sat at home, alone except for a takeaway and back-to-back episodes of How I Met Your Mother. Again. If it’s a bad one, you’ll probably still laugh (because bad opera is hilarious), and you’ll only have lost about five quid. So go on. Live life on the edge – though not too far on the edge, because look what happened to Tosca.

Read our review of the Welsh National Opera’s recent production of Tosca

PHOTO// Robert Workman for the Welsh National Opera

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