By Margarita Nahapetyan
According to Claudio Benzecry, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, USA, the passion for opera is like love at first sight for its fans.
Throughout the three seasons, between the years of 2002 and 2005, Professor Benzecry observed and interviewed many opera devotees who have been attending the Colón Opera House in Buenos Aires on the upper, cheaper floors, and concentrated particularly on those in the standing room. The scientist mainly focused his attention on the fans coming from the various middle class backgrounds, who had not been raised to enjoy opera. Benzecry studied and analyzed the way the new fans were starting to learn, feel, believe and behave in opera, as well as tried to find out which were the favorite parts that people described, and how they invested themselves once the first impressions started to fade away.
The majority of people who have been interviewed, described the intense attraction they felt the first time at the opera house as something extraordinary and explosive, which had intense and continuous physical effects, that could be compared to love at first sight. After that began the learning process, when the fans needed at least several years to discover how to truly appreciate opera.
According to Professor Benzecry, there were three ways in which opera devotees learned about the art. In all three cases, contact with other fans who had already been enjoying the experience was the cornerstone. Most of the passionate opera lovers learn to enjoy opera internally in the first place, when they are responding to parts of the music with emotional reaction,s and afterwards externally, when they start reacting publicly in the appropriate way.
To begin with, individuals start to learn about opera not in a formal way, when they arrive to the opera house and take part in non-musical moments of the performance, such as talking to others, standing in lines for tickets and door lines, as well as socializing during intermissions and bus trips to other opera houses. Before a performance starts and during the intervals, opera fans gather in order to talk, share and compare their impressions and experiences of opera.
Secondly, fans get to learn about opera more formally from the music professionals, when they start attending classes, lectures and conferences where they obtain useful information and knowledge about what they should be looking for or expecting in opera, what features of the experience they favor, and how they should act during a performance. And finally, fans learn about appropriate behavior at the opera house from elder passionate fans with greater experience, who pass on opera etiquette, such as advising when it is appropriate to boo, sit quietly in silence or clap.
The new research shows that passionate opera devotees enjoy opera not because they just liked it somehow from the first time and were moved by it, as might be expected, but rather because they believe that opera is the art that needs to be learned first in order to be appreciated in a proper way.
Professor Benzecry concluded that "fans get hooked when they are still outsiders, before having an active apparatus to interpret the experience, or are thoroughly socialized in what constitutes the enjoyment and how they should decode it.... Learning through interaction happens not at the beginning, as expected, but as the logical continuation that helps to shape the initial attraction."
The new findings are published online in Springer's journal Qualitative Sociology.