Opera today is often regarded as a boring, pretentious and/or outdated form of entertainment—a pastime for snobs and stuffy intellectuals. Many who hold this view have never attended an opera, at least not with an open mind. Some of them would never regret it if they did. While opera will never appeal to everyone, those who can enjoy it will gain access to a world of wonderful music and more. This article will, without neglecting the music, try to give you an idea of the more. So here's what the world of opera has to offer:

Sydney Opera House
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1. Beauty

Opera is art, and art is beautiful. Some would even say that opera is one of the most beautiful art forms humanity has ever created. Just listen to Maria Callas's voice soaring to the heights of Puccini's “Un bel di vedremo” (from Madama Butterfly) or to Luciano Pavarotti gloriously belting out “Nessun Dorma” (from Turandot). It's beauty in its purest form, or at least that's what most opera lovers hear. But that's not all it is, which leads us to our second reason.

2. Emotion

Whether happy or sad, quick or slow, calm or passionate, music is always an expression of human emotion. You may not be able to dance to most opera arias, but (when beautifully sung) they can touch the heart in many different ways. The listener may smile or sigh, go from joy to tears, or experience all of these together. Being an opera lover is an emotion-charged affair. The intensity is hard to find in any other style of music. But it's not all about the music. Opera's special power to express and elicit emotion comes from the combination of story and music. Hence, the third reason.

3. Drama

Opera deals with life and death, joy and sorrow, love and hate, and all the big themes of human existence. The libretto isn't usually the profoundest work of psychological realism, but style over substance isn't always the case either. Though many people think of opera as high-brow melodrama—and they're partly right—there's quite a bit of variation in style as well as subject matter. Verdi's La Traviata has little in common with Mozart's The Magic Flute, and even less with more recent works, such as Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes. They're all filled, however, with electrifying drama.

4. Fun

Many people would not associate opera with fun. But many people don't know opera. A masterpiece doesn't have to be tragic or sad, or even serious. It can be humorous, exuberant and widely entertaining—Rossini's famous comic opera The Barber of Seville is a great example. And even if it is tragic or sad, it doesn't mean it should lack in entertainment value, or our previous reason wouldn't work at all. Nor does it mean that it can't have lighter moments too—just watch/listen to Mozart's tragicomic Don Giovanni.

5. Inspiration

Art often inspires, influences, and generates other art. If you're an artist or writer, or just want to get your creative juices flowing, opera can put you in the right mood (and mind) to create. As the rich art form that it is, it can be a source of interesting sounds, images, and ideas. The whole ambience of an opera performance is conductive to creativity. Not to mention the liberating effect good music often has on the mind. In truth, just about everything about opera makes good food for the imagination, and that's something all of us need from time to time, whether we're in the business of creating or not. Dreamers will be especially fond of opera.

6. Culture

Opera has been around since the 17th century, and it's still going strong today, despite appealing to a rather small segment of the population (a sad situation that we can help improve). Spending some time in the world of opera and getting to know its unique language will connect you with a rich and fascinating tradition. Directly or indirectly, each opera has something to say about the time and place where it originated. Anyone interested in the story of Western culture will appreciate that.

7. Escapism

Hardly anyone thinks of escapism in connection to high art, but it is one of the things opera has to offer to those who enjoy it. If you feel like forgetting all your troubles for a few hours, what better way to do that than immerse yourself in a larger-than-life world of music and drama. But be warned: you may get more than you've bargained for—a refined and deeply involving experience.

8. Society

Attending an opera means more than witnessing a performance. It's a social event. It allows you to dress up, act sophisticated, talk to other people (only during the intermission, please!), show off your knowledge, and perhaps meet a soul-mate or two. You will become part of a tradition, even though the encounter with opera has changed a lot over time. These days, for instance, you can get opera in cinemas too, which makes for a different kind of event, but nonetheless exciting.

9. Foreign Languages

A large part of the opera repertoire is in Italian, including works by non-Italians, such as Mozart or Handel. A love of opera might prove of practical value if you're a student of that particular language. Or of German (try Wagner, some Mozart, Beethoven's Fidelio), French (Bizet, Gounod, Massenet), Russian (Tchaikovsky, Glinka) and other languages too, including English (Purcell). While this may not suffice to make you a lifetime fan of opera, it may prove a nice bonus if you already are one.

10. Something Different Every Time

The first experience of an opera may be quite unlike the second, the third, or the 101st. Whether it's the singers, the various artistic choices, the staging, the general atmosphere, each production is different. Moreover, because of the complexity and the details, no two performances can be exactly alike. But it's your state of mind, personal experience, knowledge of the opera world, or of music in general, that makes each encounter with a particular work unique.