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  • Sam Darling

Physiological response to singing

Many people who learn I sing opera feel compelled to apologize for not liking the art form. It’s okay. I get it. I don’t like opera either.

I mean, I don’t like the representations of it in pop culture, which is where most people get their exposure to opera. For example, when children’s television programming tries to get cultural on the kids it’ll do an episode centered around opera and it’ll be terrible.

At 00:44 seconds I WANT TO CRY.

Even when opera is represented well in mass media there are limitations. Opera is an astounding physical achievement and it takes tremendous skill to capture it on tape or film without making it sound shrill. Even the best singers have their voices greatly diminished in service of other art forms.

The truth is that I think opera is best enjoyed live. In a theatre the singers’ voices can move through the audience as originally intended. Some of the physical pleasure singers experience–the soaring heights–will be transferred to the audience. The emotion of an (overly) melodramatic death scene looks silly on film, but in a theatre, where you can feel the power of the music move through you, it works.

There are some studies that examine the benefits of singing on the singer themselves, but I have a hypothesis brewing about how the audience responds to human voices. I think the pleasure of live opera is similar to group singing. This is a primal experience that gets co-opted by most religious/sacred rituals because it feels good and helps groups bond.

It doesn’t have to be opera, of course. Any live music can have a similar effect on the listener, especially if they already know and love the music. But other forms of music are often easier to capture on tape than the grandeur of an operatic voice.

So maybe you go to the opera and maybe you have the Moonstruck moment. Maybe you cry like Cher. Maybe it makes you feel things. Or maybe you still hate it and you cry like me when I’m forced to watch Mr. Noodle.

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