What To Read: Michele Serro is making opera accessible
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What’s your Substack about in one sentence?
Opera Daily is a weekly email for those who are curious about opera but don’t know where to start.
What motivated you to start Opera Daily?
No matter who I meet, when they hear that I am a trained opera singer, they inevitably ask me to share my favorite pieces of opera music with them – to share my greatest hits. When I started this newsletter, my goal was to help the readers find their greatest hits. I wanted to introduce readers to new pieces that they would love.
Another motivation was seeing so many of my closest musician friends unable to practice their craft because of the pandemic. Through guest posts and collaborations, I hope to create a place to share their knowledge and talents with the Opera Daily readers.
As a former opera singer, what are some of the elements of a performance that you notice but others might miss?
Opera without great singing is nothing. While I love the art form, I don’t think it should exist without extraordinary performers. There is a lot of really crappy opera out there, and I think many listeners have encountered bad productions or performances for their first time, and that’s stuck with them.
Good opera singing is far more direct and honest than people think it is. You don’t need special knowledge and training to understand good opera singing. Good singing is unaffected, honest and direct. It can be raw and messy, but it is beautiful, and it’s not hard to spot it when you hear it.
I don’t think you need special knowledge to identify the good bits. I will say that I can spot honest singing that is produced with a great technique a mile away because I have an intimate understanding of how the sounds are produced. But you can too, I am sure!
How do you help people who are new to opera develop a connection to it?
Opera can be intimidating. It is not mainstream in most cultures, especially in the U.S. There is more opera in one night in Germany alone than in all of America!
Though some people say opera is an acquired taste, I think all you need are open ears and a warm heart to appreciate it. When I was in high school, I would go to the opera in New York City with my mother, and at intermission she would often ask me, “Was that performance good?” I would reply, “If you liked it, then it was good.” That’s the type of confidence I want to provide to the readers of Opera Daily.
The great singers of the past, like Maria Callas, are a perfect gateway into the art form. If I want to introduce the Opera Daily audience to the best version of “Vittoria! Vittoria!,” the tenor’s big moment in the second act of Puccini’s opera Tosca, I will introduce them to Franco Corelli’s performance from Parma in 1967. That is by far the best performance of the aria ever, and I want the reader to hear the best from the beginning. Listening to the best performances creates a strong foundation of knowledge and inspires learners to want to listen to more opera.
You often host community threads, encouraging readers to share their own opera experiences. Why are you drawn to do that?
There are so many people who love opera. These people have things they want to say, and they are often dying for you to ask them what they think. I get so many comments and emails from folks who were introduced to opera at a young age, and they have vivid memories of that time in their life. I loved this community thread, where I asked folks to talk about their first opera memory.
I believe our job as Substack “hosts” is to make our readers comfortable so they can build on the content we put out there. Also, they will realize they’re not alone with their thoughts and ideas.
What’s one opera selection we should all listen to but likely haven’t?
“Suzel, buon dì…Tutto tace” (popularly known as the “Cherry Duet”) from Act II of the opera L’amico Fritz by Pietro Mascagni.
L’amico Fritz is a simple but beautiful love story. This duet is the heart of the opera, both musically and structurally. It’s sexy, delicate, charming. Soprano Mirella Freni and tenor Luciano Pavarotti are singing the roles of Suzel and Fritz. If you listen closely, you can hear the cherries being plucked from the tree. Interestingly, Freni and Pavarotti grew up just blocks from each other in Modena, Italy. And the singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright incorporated the melody from the Cherry Duet in his “Greek Song.”
Who’s another Substack writer you’d recommend?
I love Tom White’s Substack White Noise. I am currently in the On Deck Investing Fellowship, and Tom is the program director for our cohort. He’s a writer first, and I’ve learned a lot from Tom’s writing and the discoveries he’s made through the writing process that he shares on his Substack. He’s so sincere and vulnerable.