Opera can be one of the most accessible forms of classical music and as a child I always loved going to Glyndeboune, ROH and ENO Operas (making use of the wonderful youth and standing ticket offers). The first opera I saw, Mozart's Cozzi fan Tutti, had me in tears of both sorrow and laughter and I have been a die hard opera fan ever since. But there is an awful stigma that overshadows every Opera performance, the dreaded helmet-wearing buxom soprano that warbles painfully for hours.
Most of the time I am enthusiastic about music of all kinds, especially amateur concerts and shows which I think are a great way for non-professionals to experience music from the inside. I have played in many amateur shows, from the kind put on in the local village hall by the local dramatic society to high quality productions like Glyndebournes Youth production of the Knight Crew that was broadcast on the BBC as 'Gareth Malone goes to Glyndebourne'. The one reservation I have is for some amateur opera productions. In particular I think it is dangerous for amateur companies to attempt Romantic tragedies. In homage to the amateur Musical and artistic directors I have worked with in the past they have always seemed to know where the line between a stylish/entertaining performance and that dreaded stereotype is. From what I have gathered the most important part of this is knowing when something is unattainable, if you can't find an available soprano with the right range, for goodness sake don't choose to do an opera with a vital soprano part in it!
It is all too easy for a show to turn farcical when a singer can't quite manage that climactic top note (and there are often many many opportunities for this to happen). Of course this isn't a problem in comic opera or musicals where it can either be written off as comedy and/or the music is much generally less challenging anyway.
The performance of Il Trovatore we saw a few nights ago was a prime example of good amateur musicians who just bit off a bit more than they could chew. There were some outstanding singers who really did try their best with what are very challenging parts resulting in some spine tingling moments. But overall the complexity of the music and the challenge of such continuous tragic acting left you with an unsatisfactory overall picture. Part of the problem was the translation of the opera into English which I often think gets in the way of the music (sometimes even with ENO performances even though they generally do it very well). But, the main problem was that the opera was just too complex for the company to manage, I would have loved to see the same company put on a run of a lighter comic opera or musical!
I think it is unethical for an amateur company to do a show when they have to know they will not be able to do it justice, if solely for the reason that it cements in that dreadful opera stereotype and could irreparably damage opera for someone new to it.
Just to be clear I am not condemning amateur productions. But, when you pay maybe even £20 for a ticket (twice what a Glyndebourne ticket can be) and turn up to incomplete arias because the singers haven't got the range or run out of breath and an orchestral part that sounds thin because they cannot afford a full orchestra but have tried to fill it out as much as possible instead of rearranging it; it's a small wonder that most people think of opera as a painful experience (including some of my musician friends I haven't been able to enlighten yet).