For such a celebrated and historic art form, knowing where to start your opera music collection can be challenging.
However, as Andrea Bocelli, one of the genre’s biggest stars, suggests, knowledge of opera isn't imperative when it comes to being swept away by the music.
“For me, opera has always embodied a musical haven. It is an art form within everyone's reach; able to give deep sensations beyond time, language or prejudice,” he tells The National ahead of his November 24 concert at Etihad Park in Abu Dhabi.
“You don't need any specific skills to appreciate such a reservoir of wonders. The work itself directly tackles human drives. It is, therefore, perennially current and universal, able to ignite primary emotions and break down every cultural and generational barrier.”
With opera masterpieces renowned for their compositional and lyrical flourishes, Bocelli says culture lovers of various tastes will all find something to savour.
“Each lyrical title has an endless series of relationships with literature, the figurative arts, history, and society,” he says.
"With that in mind, one’s experience of opera is never the same and it can take you on a journey to better understand oneself, strength of feelings and human relationships.”
While opera is popularly experienced on stage, Bocelli recommends the album format for an equally enriching experience.
“During my career I have made many albums in which I performed famous arias taken from the operatic repertoire,” he says. “But a more complete experience can be best had when listening to an operatic title in its entirety.”
Here, in the maestro's words, are five Italian operas he loves and recommends to new and seasoned listeners.
1. ‘Turandot’ by Giacomo Puccini
“Turandot is the last 20th-century opera title capable of arousing resounding popular enthusiasm.
“The music admirably relays, under the seductive wing of a mysteriously Chinese fairy tale, the notions of two centuries: the 19th century with its romantic pathos and the new ferments of the 20th century.
“My role in the production is that of Prince Calaf. His aria, Nessun dorma, with which I usually end concerts, is viewed as the victory anthem of all tenors.”
2. ‘La Boheme’ by Puccini
“Overflowing with musicality and passion, it tells the sad and sweet Parisian story of Rodolfo and Mimi.
“They are everyday characters and heroes at the same time. Through their wonderful melodies, they remind us how love, by its very nature, can never be trivial.
“It's a story that can move you from the very first note; as well as make you laugh and cry profoundly.”
3. ‘Andrea Chenier’ by Umberto Giordano
“This is a bloody and adventurous masterpiece that is halfway between a historical detective drama and a melodrama of love and jealousy.
“Andrea Chenier is a story set in the shadow of the French Revolution with a score overflowing with emotions.
“The drama here comes from the characters’ passion and then of their political disillusionment after the ideals of 'Liberte, egalite, fraternite' (liberty, equality, fraternity) have not been put into practice.
“Love also plays a vital role as it leads the poet Chenier and his beloved Magdalene to their tragic demise.”
4. ‘Il Trovatore’ by Giuseppe Verdi
“A popular opera par excellence.
“This is a dark and compelling opera, set in 15th-century Spain, and teaches how hatred generates only more hatred.
“Set in ancient palaces of power and the gypsy camps, this production eloquently speaks of unhappy lovers, atrocious revenge, murky premonitions, and curses.
“The music demonstrates the strength of simplicity and the power of unforgettable melodies, as experienced in the aria Di Quella Pira.
5. 'Aida' by Giuseppe Verdi
“This opera is a concentration of themes linked to Verdi's genius, from patriotism and ideal tension to violent passion and desperate love.
“It is one of the most loved and performed works in theatres and is famous for many pieces, including the Triumphal March and the tenor romance of Celeste Aida.
“Known as Verdi's Egyptian opera, it is a masterpiece that I had the privilege of recording ― in the title role as heroic warrior Radames ― guided by the extraordinary baton of Zubin Mehta.”
Andrea Bocelli performs at Etihad Park, Abu Dhabi on Thursday, November 24. Doors open at 7.30pm; from D395; etihadarena.ae
— Bocelli’s quotes have been edited for brevity and clarity