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Access all arias: opera in Delhi

This monthly opera series at India Habitat Centre is a haven for aficionados

A scene from an opera staged in Beijing, China. Photo: Reuters
A scene from an opera staged in Beijing, China. Photo: Reuters

Lush music, emotive singing, grandiose scenery and dazzling costumes enthral opera audiences around the world. In his own small way, Delhi Music Society president Sunit Tandon has been bringing similar joy to many in Delhi by curating monthly opera screenings at the India Habitat Centre for the past four years.

Around 10 people turned up at the first screening in 2013. “Now we can get close to 60 and there is more interest and awareness," says Tandon, who started with his own DVD collection and has managed to never repeat an opera. “It’s very tricky scheduling these as I have to put on an opera which is not too long or esoteric and a production which is fairly appealing." There are some really bad productions out there, he says, alluding to the practice of overenthusiastic directors who stretch the interpretation of an opera to implausibly bizarre limits, removing all that the composer might have intended, save the music.

“I don’t want to put people off with an avant-garde production, as the idea is to build up an audience." With a large enough dedicated audience, Tandon hopes there will be a way to arrange “Met Live in HD" telecasts, in which performances from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City are broadcast live around the world. “They have already started the NT Live broadcasts," he says, referring to the play screenings in India from the National Theatre in London, “and it’ll be great if we can do that for opera as well."

In the age of YouTube, an opera screening can be a tough draw for audiences. But “watching opera on a large screen with a good sound system makes all the difference," he says, explaining why laptop or television-viewing doesn’t pass muster.

Tandon’s programming could be called “safe", which means he avoids some of the longer operas that revolutionized the form, say the Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner, an epic tetralogy with a combined length of almost 16 hours, with the longest of them approaching the 5-hour mark. “There is no way anyone is sitting here for that long," he says. For September, he’s pushing the envelope with Richard Strauss’ Ariadne Auf Naxos, which is an opera—with an eye towards postmodernism—about producing an opera.

Will he be able to keep the series going? “Absolutely," he says with the zeal of a crusader, “there is no commercial interest here. I do it for the pleasure of it and," he pauses, “to spread the joy of music."

Richard Strauss’ Ariadne Auf Naxos will be screened on 20 September, 7pm, at The Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre, Delhi.

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