Dafne (1597) is widely considered the first opera ever written. Since then, there have been around 30,000 operas composed, with around 3,000 of them being performed in the last five years.

Yet, despite the wide range of diverse compositions, opera appears to be a dying art.

Opera, along with all live art, has suffered a blow since the Covid-19 pandemic due to an increase of home entertainment.

However, this is not to say that opera lacks popularity, many people enjoy going to the opera and are committed and devoted to the art, but why doesn’t it have the popularity it once did?  

One reason is the slow transition from operas into operettas and then further into musical theatre at the end of the 1800s, and then the rise in popularity of jazz music in the 1920s and somehow opera got lost along the way.

While opera is still being composed and performed across the world, most people have developed different tastes, whereas before the 20th century, opera was highly regarded by many.

Operettas were popular in the late 1800s and were the spark which began the fire of musical theatre. Contemporary musicals tend to lean into the belt range and chest voice of a soprano’s voice, rather than the legit and classical range that early musicals used.

These ‘golden age’ musicals are associated with the pure and classic voices of actors like Julie Andrews and Audrey Hepburn, and are much more similar in style to those in an operetta.

But now this voice type is considered outdated by many, while its beauty and sound is appreciated, it can be boring to listen to. For people who prefer other genres of music, it could be due to the lyricism, speed or relatability that opera lacks.

Opera gives a very dramatic representation of life, often in reaction to very unlikely events, so the audience may struggle to relate, along with the language barriers that many operas provide, even for the English operas, the open vowel sounds can make it difficult to understand. 

As well as this, there is an increase in music to listen to. Accessible streaming services such as Spotify, or Apple Music make millions of songs and symphonies available to the general population.

However, in the past these services were not available, it wasn’t until the 1880s that the gramophone was invented and music could be recorded and replayed.

Naturally, Opera was the most cost effective way to enjoy live music, requiring only one additional person to accompany the singer. And with such a wide range of music available, it is not shocking that music from 200 or more years ago is not the most popular. 

Finally, there is an element of class and expectations, because despite the change in time periods, opera still remains associated with the rich and conservative. This can put people off going because they feel like they don’t belong, or are intimidated by attending. 

Overall, it is a shame that the popularity of opera is constantly declining, as the complexity and emotion of the music is unlike anything we see today.  

By Liberty Tickner