I've been watching a lot more opera in the last year than usual, both live and on DVD. The reason I didn't use to do it was that I find it very difficult to turn off my overly critical, cynical mind. It's not that I can't appreciate a good performance of opera, I'm just very easily put off by small things.
It's not even about the singing, though I admit that these days I go to operas mostly to listen to how 'real life' singing differs from 'college' singing, and then have a think about why it is different, which does mean a lot of listening out for technique and tricks of the trade (after all, I want to know what I'll hopefully be getting myself into). However most of the 'buts' I have nagging away at my mind after performances are usually to do with productions not being able to keep me in the world they create. Oddly enough, a cracked note by a singer doesn't necessarily destroy the reality the character's in (unless the singer then flags it up by becoming defensive). My pet hates are more trivial things like not looking at the person you're singing to (OK, you can do it if there's a reason for averting your gaze, but if it's just because you're focused on yourself or the conductor, it breaks the reality of the drama), bad fights, costumes or props that stick out of a design, rickety sets, etc. Small things that don't seem to bother most people I just can't seem to be able to ignore.
Which brings me to today's dress rehearsal. Innovatively designed (with projected backdrops and even 'frontdrops', a cinematic curtain, but quite understated and minimal use of set pieces in favour of a clever symbolic use of space), yet traditionally set, well sung, well played, well paced, in general a great show. But what hit me, was that although it was a rehearsal, and it was not absolutely perfect in terms of minor things like lighting cues, surtitles, etc; none of those little things mattered! The world created on stage was so carefully maintained throughout, the performers so committed to it, that I finally had an experience of 'switching off' my brain and just being taken in by it all. I'm not even a big fan of the composer! It was wonderful to see a production that took so much care to keep the magic going, that you never even thought it was odd that the boys had the snow from Act III in their flat in Act IV. We just thought: 'oh! times are not good, the poor lads have to sweep the snow from their floor!' and it was a fact of life.
I don't know if it's just a question of attention to detail, or inspired design, or commitment, but transporting cynics to a different, credible world in the way this production managed to do it will be my new benchmark for operatic performances. And for myself as a singer I acknowledge that a lot of responsibility for that will be on my shoulders, and as Martin Lloyd Evans and David Gowland said at the BYO workshops: technique, voice, acting; they're only a means to that ultimate end!