Opera for the Uninitiated
The Gilded Stage: A Social History of the Opera by Daniel Snowman promises to do what few nonfiction books about opera have done thus far: describe the evolution of opera from everyman's entertainment to one, believed by many, to be reserved for those of a select social sphere.
In the Literary Review by Tim Blanning, he describes some attributes of that change. "One thing that has certainly changed for the better has been behaviour in the auditorium. Until deep into the nineteenth century, the opera house was more a social centre than a temple of the arts. Its visitors chatted, flirted, smoked, drank, gambled and—behind the drawn curtains of the boxes—made love." Although the decorum has changed, opera today is much more accessible than many believe. Fanciful stage sets and costuming, viewing technologies and library resources are all ways in which opera has become a more public event.
The production values of today's operas have more in common with the fantastical vision of Julie Taymor's The Tempest than the reserved set production that many people associate with operas. Just take a look at the cast for Médée, Euripides's ancient tragedy. Krzysztof Warlikowski and Christophe Rousset's costumes are strictly contemporary, evoking Amy Winehouse's iconic look to cement the theme of being an outsider. Harrison Birtwistle's The Minotaur at Royal Opera House in Britain balances creative costuming with the practicalities of singing through a structured headpiece. The Minotaur was also an interesting study in that it filled seats fairly well and returned as a revival.
Technological advances have made it possible to enjoy superb opera performances from home or live in HD through movie theatres via services like Fathom Events.
MetOpera Database has every Metropolitan Opera performance since 1883!