I'll admit, despite training in classical voice for several years now, I don't know that much opera. I've only seen a handful live, and a bit more through online videos. I couldn't name that many roles or arias. But I know enough about opera to know that, in the theatrical world, it is severely underestimated and under-discussed.
For one thing, there seems to be a distinct lack of acknowledgement that opera paved the way for musical theatre. They're both musical drama, after all, with music and voice as the prime storytelling mechanic. Musicals developed from operettas, which were lighter, more comedic operas. Think about the Gilbert and Sullivan style. It's not hard to see where musical comedy came from when watching a performance of A Modern Major General from Pirates of Penzance.
And, of course, a fair amount of modern shows stem directly from operas. Notably RENT takes La bohème to a new bohemia in the East Village, with a focus on the AIDS crisis. Mark is Marcello, Maureen is Musetta, Rodger is Rodolfo, and Mimi is...well, Mimi. Miss Saigon takes a new look at Madama Butterfly, transporting the story to the Vietnam War and adding new political and dramatic notes.
Even today, many shows we think of as musicals brand themselves as operas, with relatively few using the classical sound we'd expect from an opera. The line between musical theatre and opera is relatively thin nowadays - they're both forms of musical drama, after all. Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 is an electropop opera (the opening song reminds the audience "This is all in your program/You are at the opera"). Hadestown is a folk opera. Bare: A Pop Opera has label in its name.
And that's not even mentioning some more modern scores that sound a great deal more like what we would expect from opera. Take The Light in the Piazza, for instance - its musical complexity and classical sound differs greatly from most modern fare. We have beloved actress Kelli O'Hara, who began her journey in opera and now returns to the medium sometimes.
But opera's value in present day shouldn't be relegated to how it can connect to musical theatre. Opera does so much as a theatrical form that often goes overlooked. For one thing, some of the most incredible and daring concept and design work I've ever seen in theatre has been in opera. A rather interesting example is the recent La bohème in space. Yes, really. While I might question the textual support for such a concept, it's still a stunning way to look at how modern opera is far from the boring "park and bark" image that many people have.
Opera nowadays is, quite frankly, cool. Take Rachele Gilmore, who made her Met debut as a cover with four hours notice, performing The Doll Song and hitting an Ab6. That's about an octave above the highest notes in many musical theatre classics like "I Could Have Danced All Night," and the highest note hit on the Metropolitan Opera stage at the time. One famous scene from a classic opera is Lucia di Lammermoor's mad scene, where the titular character appears in a trance with a blood-splattered wedding gown after killing her new husband. It's as theatrical as anything else, as inspiring and incredible.
To think of opera as a fixture of the past is to ignore almost everything that makes it wonderful. There are many people dedicated to creating new opera works right this moment. As a matter of fact, this coming fall I am going to be working as a dramaturg for a new opera festival. Opera is not all Puccini and Mozart, after all!
I'm very fortunate that my college allows me to freely peruse the Met Opera's streaming service. I'm very fortunate that it led me to an opportunity to work on new operas. I'm very fortunate that I have a classical soprano voice that allows me to work on and sing some of the pieces that I love so much.
But I think every theatre lover can find a way to experience opera, learn to appreciate it and find inspiration. We can support more local opera companies, listen to recordings and watch clips online, and sometimes even sing it.
So that's why I'm saying today give opera a chance. I think you won't regret it.