Bringing opera to the small screen

8 September 2020

Opera is, in itself, a culmination of music, dance, theatre and art, so it is not surprising it also works for a myriad of other platforms. Welsh National Opera has looked at opera and cinema, explored opera in advertising, but here we discuss the moments made magnificent by opera on the small screen.

And no, we are not talking about soap operas – which was a term first coined in 1930, originating from the radio operas at the time named that way as they were originally sponsored by soap companies. Television is known for making the grandiose accessible and the elaborate available for everyone. Shows such as The Simpsons and Family Guy have used opera to parody plots and create humorous moments – just look at the episode The Homer of Seville. Whereas Looney Tunes’ The Long-Haired Hare can make you marvel at the skills of being a conductor, in this case, Leopold Stokowski, or indeed an opera singer (thankfully ours don’t bring the house down literally – only figuratively).

Although sometimes opera on TV can come off in a bad light, this is certainly not the case in Killing Eve. The icy MI6 agent Carolyn Martens brings a more profound level to liking opera; it is the soundtrack to her life; before the death of her son she sings along contentedly to ‘Lucretia! O, Never Again Must We Two Dare to Part’ from The Rape of Lucretia. However, after his demise you see her devastating grief: listening to Purcell’s Dido’s Lament she says ‘what a terrible way to die’, her eyes welling up, ‘Dido dies from her grief’, as Carolyn surely feels she is about to. This is the full emotive power of opera at its finest.

Giant lobster coming through doors man trying to push it away with chair.

Opera often tells you a lot about the inner depth of a person, interestingly enough those who love it are often powerful or perceived as cynical. Such as the much loved TV character Inspector Morse who loves opera, especially Wagner and Mozart. The series also included opera and other classical music as part of its soundtrack and The Magic Flute was a significant plot device in one episode. It may be something to do with sleuthing, as the detective series Wallander’s main character also loves opera, although he prefers Puccini.

Not all television moments are quite so dark however. Take for example the Doctor Who Christmas special starring Katherine Jenkins: her voice actually saves the day singing, ‘when you're alone, silence is all you see.’ Not with Welsh National Opera though, we aim to bring people together with the joy of music and the community of singing; see WNO Chorus singing our heavenly welsh hymn. They certainly give any singer a run for their money.