Lucy Worsley, Isaac Hempstead Wright and Armando Iannucci talk their secret love: opera

Here's why you should be watching BBC’s Opera Season, according to the stars

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Armando Iannucci

The screenwriter and director is the author of Hear Me Now, A Celebration of Classical Music

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What’s the first opera you saw?

The Magic Flute, by Mozart. I thought it was the silliest, most incomprehensible piece of nonsense I’d ever seen. Twee tunes and bizarre Masonic messages. And someone’s poxy flute. I thought it’d put me off opera for life. I’m glad it didn’t.

What’s your favourite opera?

Tristan and Isolde, by Wagner. So long and slow. But overwhelmingly passionate music all the way through. Even if the soloists look nothing like young lovers, nothing can spoil the magic.

Have you had another bash at Mozart?

I recently saw The Magic Flute again, done in association with the theatre company Complicité. Lots of imagination had gone into every element, turning something I thought I hated into one of the most memorable creative experiences I’ve been lucky to see. When everything comes together, opera is unbeatable.


Lucy Worsley

Presenter of Lucy Worsley’s Nights At The Opera, Sat 9pm BBC2 (10.30pm Wales)

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What was the first opera you saw?

I remember going to the Theatre Royal in Nottingham when I was 11 and seeing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat every Saturday afternoon – then one day The Magic Flute was on instead, so we went to that. I loved it.

Which opera has most affected you?

La bohème by Puccini, in particular the death of Mimi. It’s one of the greatest hits because it’s so utterly moving and fantastic. For my show I had the privilege of being taught how to do it by a wonderful soprano called Angel Blue.

Is it the singing or the costumes you love?

It’s the old-fashioned glamour. I like to go to a proper opera house, like the Palais Garnier in Paris, to revel in the decadence. And opera is a historical force in its own right, in the same way food and clothing can be.


Isaac Hempstead Wright

The Game Of Thrones star features In #Operapassion Day (Thursday)

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What was the first opera you saw?

The Magic Flute at the ENO. I can remember coming out humming the Queen of the Night’s aria for days. Although I’d been listening to classical music for years, I’d never given opera much thought – as a pianist I tended towards piano music.

Do you like to hear it sung in English?

Once I was on holiday in Barcelona with some friends and convinced a few of them to see an opera with me at the Palau. It was La Traviata by Verdi, and I don’t speak Italian and there were no subtitles, so we had just the music and on-stage drama to put across all that was going on. It showed me opera’s power to rouse very strong emotions through the union of music and theatre.

What is it you love about opera?

It transcends limitations like language and culture. As I experienced in Barcelona, anybody can be moved and stirred by opera, whether or not you know the words.


Katie Derham

Presenter of Radio 3’s Afternoon Concert — Verdi’s Nabucco (Thu 2pm) and Glyndebourne’s Hamlet (22 Oct BBC4)

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What turned you on to opera?

I came to opera quite late. I’d tried a couple of times in my 20s, but was unlucky with the productions I saw – I didn’t feel the love. I adored the music – the hits – but couldn’t truly share in the slavish devotion others seemed to have for the art form. But then at the start of 2009, I was reading one of those new year guides to unmissable events in the theatre, and saw that Jonas Kaufmann was singing Verdi’s Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House.

On a whim, I picked up the phone and bought tickets. From the moment the music started, I was hooked. Suddenly – whether it was Nick Hytner’s production, the exceptional cast (which included Simon Keenlyside and John Tomlinson as well as the godlike Kaufmann) or the music – it all clicked. And I understood that together, music, words and action really can create something that is greater than the sum of the parts. Since then I’ve been playing catch-up. I’m lucky enough to work quite regularly at Glyndebourne and the Royal Opera House, and regularly present operas on Radio 3, so my education is coming on apace.

What’s your favourite opera?

Handel’s Saul at Glyndebourne was outstanding – I was agog from the opening scene, and enthralled by every element. And I always cry at Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier.


Frank Skinner

Afternoon Concert, Wednesday 8pm Sky Arts

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Remember your first opera?

The first one that sticks in my memory is The Magic Flute, and the Queen of the Night’s aria. I suppose it lasts two minutes, and I had my mouth open the whole time. I couldn’t believe these sounds were coming out of a human being. There were still chunks where I was bored, but other chunks when I was amazed. I’ve kept going ever since.

Who do you go to the opera with?

Joan Bakewell [his Landscape Artist of the Year co-presenter] and I are opera buddies, we take it in turns to pick what to see. I went before Joan took me too, mainly because I bought a flat in Covent Garden and I thought, “Well, it’s so close…” I also had a friend who worked at the Royal Opera House so she used to get me tickets for dress rehearsals.

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BBC’s Opera Season takes place this autumn, with a series of programmes across radio, TV and online