Like Brussels sprouts, opera is one of those things that one has to get used to. An acquired taste.
As for Brussels sprouts, however, I believe that early exposition is the best way to develop a long lasting appreciation of it.
You see me coming, right? It might not have been premeditated, but my mom did expose us to opera right from our younger years. As I imagine it is the case for many opera enthusiasts, my entry door to opera was Verdi; he is indeed one of the more approachable composers. Most of us know his melodies (without necessarily knowing they are his). Listen to those and tell us if you've heard them before! I bet you have (if you're not sure to recognize the beginning, just fast-forward a little bit further in the excerpt)!
Verdi was the first reason why I decided to learn Italian, some 15 years ago. I wanted to know what they were all so happy about! (Turns out they're not always happy, contrary to what the music leads you to believe.) Plus, Verdi operas were not the only ones written in la lingua dell'amore.
Some other well-known examples of Italian opera include Rossini (you know this one!):
Il barbiere di Siviglia
Le nozze di Figaro
The following ones (respectively by Dvorak and Mozart), however, still hold secrets for me as I do not speak Czech nor German. The music talks to me anyways! (Plus, there's always the surtitles.) Listen and see if it talks to you too!
It took me more time to appreciate less "happy" operas, like Puccini's. Other examples include Catalani, Cilea, Flotow, Giordano, Leoncavallo and Wagner. (To discover them, click on the names.)
But my mom had more tricks up her sleeve: during our teenage years, she bought season tickets to l'Opéra de Montréal for the whole family!
Opera being what it is, it grows on you. And grow on us it did. I love it all now! What do you think of opera?
If it's the voices you don't like so much, here are two wonderful opera excerpts that are solely instrumental.
Mascagni - Cavalleria Rusticana
Verdi - La Traviata
I was planning to give a little "course" on French opera within this post, but as it turns out, it's already long enough as it is. I'm afraid I will have to write a sequel to this musical trilogy! Do not miss it, as French opera contains pure gems! Stay tuned!
In the meantime, if you want more on opera, take a look at this great blog!