An American Soprano on the Importance of Opera

Will this UNESCO distinction help protect it in the future?

I certainly hope so. Opera can often be stereotyped as this archaic museum piece. We think of it as very elitist nowadays. But it was originally a people’s art form. Just a few generations ago, it was in cartoons: The youngest of the young were learning about characters such as the Barber of Seville.

Nowadays, a lot of young people when first exposed to opera say, “This is so pompous and old-fashioned, and it doesn’t speak to me.” What is your response?

I believe opera doesn’t get marketed properly. I don’t think there has ever been a generation that wasn’t interested in history. If history is presented well, and interestingly, everybody wants to know. People watch “The Crown,” “Downton Abbey.” People want to be transported. What alienates young people is how opera can often be presented. If you just say, “Opera is about romance and beauty and passion and fabulous costumes,” you take all the meat off the bone. There are plenty of extremely forward-looking pieces that have been written about women, power struggle, class struggle, race.

Opera is all narrative. The stories are there: You’re reading lines, and you’re following what’s going on. It’s like reading a book. And the sound of the voice is simply the sound of the trained voice.

Now, it’s not to everybody’s taste. I get that not everybody likes it. But not everybody likes the sound of rock singers, or the sound of country singers. There is an ear for everything. Ultimately, nine times out of 10, the music sells people on opera, because the music is simply divine.

Are you personally concerned about opera’s future?

During the pandemic, I was really concerned about it. I thought that gathering in theaters would be the last thing to come back — that people would say: “This is so unnecessary. Let’s drop it. We’re going to put everything online, and stream it, and it’ll be the same thing.” We learned that it’s not the same thing, that you don’t have the same experience.

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