Opera cast its powerful spell over Rupert Christiansen as a young boy, and ever since he has navigated across a spectrum of productions. He shares his perspectives on opera, and what it’s like working as a full-time operatic critic.
Could you describe your job?
My job as opera critic is to describe an interpret opera productions throughout the UK and Europe, as well as reviewing opera CDs, interviewing the major players and providing commentary on the politics of the art form. I tailor what I write to my conception of the Telegraph’s non-specialist readership; when I write for Opera magazine, I can take much more prior knowledge for granted.
What drew you to opera, to begin with?
Growing up in the 1960s, my journey to opera was a smooth one. The melodic genius of the Beatles and Beach Boys led me to the great musicals of the 1950s and 1960s and hence to G&S – which I still think is the crucial stepping stone. My very first opera was La Fille du regiment, which is scarcely more sophisticated than The Mikado (Gilbert & Sullivan) and therefore very ‘accessible’. The cast was led by Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti and they were stunning. The audience went completely wild, and I was hooked thereafter. I became a Young Friend of Covent Garden, which allowed one to buy cheap tickets to the Amphitheatre and started the joinery of discovery entirely on my own, without encouragement from parents or school.
What’s the biggest misconception about the world of opera?
That opera cannot engage one as drama in the way that a play, movie or television series can.
What are the most challenging parts of putting an opera production in place?
Simply that – the most challenging difficulty is combining all the different elements – acting and staging; orchestra and voices; text and music …
Could you tell our readers what they should look for when considering attending an opera event for the first time?
Just relax and see where it takes you. Don’t freeze up or feel you have to do masses of homework, but give it a bit of time to work its spell.
What do you think the future of opera looks like?
In some respects a bit grim. Fewer great singers, less money available, no sign of an end to silly productions, more people skewing the economics of performance by attending HD relays than the real live thing. On the other hand, there has been a lot of superb new opera premièred in the last twenty years. so the art form clearly still has some mileage in the tank. There are also a few great talents out there still- Joyce DiDonato, Michael Fabiano, Karita Mattila, Christian Gerhaher, Juan Diego Florez, Anna Netrebko, Elina Garanca, Jonas Kaufmann among them.
Twitter handle: @Rupechri