What I think about: Opera on holiday.
There is a wonderful freedom in attending operas while you're on holiday. Instead of rushing off directly from an intensive day's work, you have time to relax and prepare for the experience. There's a sense of cultural preparedness, too. If you've spent the morning visiting Weber's house on the outskirts of Dresden, a performance of Der Freischiitz at the Semperoper will take on a resonance it may never have elsewhere. Even if the production has no visual connection to a German romance from the early 19th century, you'll be more in tune with the music than you could ever be at home. Museums, galleries, street cafes--a different pace of life--all these elements enhance the effect of opera on holiday.
Whether you choose to attend the famous international festivals or not, there are many opportunities for intensive opera-going, or you can combine a relaxing countryside tour with a few choice stops, for example to the famous Italian opera towns of Bologna, Parma and Verona And it's not just London, Paris and Berlin that have more than one tantalizing venue; there are two opera houses in Vienna, for instance, and three in Prague.
But there are more compelling reasons for opera-touring than just adding operas and productions like notches to your belt. Audience preferences differ from culture to culture, enhancing not only the art form but your holiday. Often your best chance for seeing and hearing unusual operas is by travelling to the source--Aulis Sallinen in Helsinki, perhaps, or James Macmillan in Glasgow. There's also an intensity of involvement that can only be experienced first-hand. Just this spring, I was standing with about 35 other people at the ticket desk in the Vienna State Opera, hoping for a last-minute ticket for a new production of Nabucco. Even after all the tickets were gone--after the overture, the applause and the beginning of the opera itself--we were still waiting.
Opera is an art form of passion and pride. At home, you may revel in the accomplishments of your local company and especially in home-grown talents who have made good. Watching a career blossom is one of the great joys of being involved in your own musical community, and travelling can extend that sense of involvement. It is truly gratifying to watch a Canadian singer, designer or director triumph internationally, and fun to applaud and cheer as shamelessly as any claque.
Planning an extended holiday around musical events is not for everyone, but it can be an intensive, value-added element in a trip you've always wanted to take. Sharing the joys, the complexities, even the dismal moments of a production is akin to breathing mountain air for opera-lovers, so the wish to travel with like-minded souls is only natural.
So what's the best way to plan an opera holiday? If you want to strike out on your own, the Internet is an invaluable resource. Most opera companies have detailed Websites with cast and production information to help you design your own adventure. If the prices seem prohibitive, remember that in many houses, standing room is still a bargain, and you're bound to meet some wonderful people.
There are many tour organizers who will do much of the planning for you. Some specialize in designing music and opera tours for specific clients, while others put together packages that include airfare, accommodation, performance tickets and arts-related touring. Such tours usually include an arts or opera consultant, as well as local guides for sightseeing. You can choose to be footloose, or treat yourself to an intensive voyage of discovery, immerse yourself in studying librettos or just have fun.
Toronto broadcaster Catherine Belyea enjoys opera both at home and abroad, and occasionally leads opera tours