According to the website Operabase the top ten most performed operas in the world are:- La Traviata; The Magic Flute; Carmen; La Bohème; Tosca; Madama Butterfly; The Barber of Seville; The Marriage of Figaro; Don Giovanni and Rigoletto. This list will come as no surprise to any regular opera goer, but what bothers me is that it rarely changes – except the opera’s place on the list. So we have three by Puccini – OK so he’s very popular; three by Mozart – slightly surprising; two by Verdi – probably the greatest opera composer; and one each by Rossini, who must have written ten worthy of the list, and Bizet who’s Carmen amply demonstrates that popularity has little to do with quality.
Now, leaving aside another great composer, Wagner, who’s music is deemed ‘difficult’, why no Bellini who wrote what must be some of the most beautiful music ever written: or Donizetti who wrote both the most dramatic and the happiest. We have no Handel in the list to complement the Mozart, and Massenet is probably deemed ‘soppy’. Meyerbeer, Pacini and Mercadante are just unfashionable though their operas are often sourced as concert pieces for daring sopranos. Other one-off hits like Faust, Samson & Delilah and The Tales of Hoffmann have each had their place in the sun, but fashion is fickle.
My opera encyclopædia describes in detail more than 1500 operas and lists thousands more by over 800 composers, so there’s no shortage to choose from. However, we’re stuck with the same top ten and this has the deleterious effect of lowering standards. If you can sell every seat for a performance of Madama Butterfly, no matter how poor, there’s a very strong temptation not to bother with the less well known, no matter how good.
It isn’t a question of I know what I like; it is, rather dangerously to the open mind, I like what I know.
“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” HERBERT SPENCER
You can contact Paul via the subject advice section of the national website.