Apparently there's more to it than what I got from watching Looney Tunes on Saturday morning cartoons.
On Wednesday night, I attended a discussion group that meets monthly for the 2nd time, and this time the topic was the relevance of opera. (Last month's topic was the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty). In preparation for the discussion the guy who would be leading the discussion sought out a bunch of opera clips for us to watch on YouTube and picked a few articles about opera and classical music and their relevance/place in modern society.
Being pretty much a total opera n00b -- I went twice in high school as part of a "take kids to culture and hope it rubs off on them" thing -- and wanting to be able to participate in the discussion I read all the articles and watched all the clips twice, once before reading over his notes on each piece, and once after. And I have to say...there's still a lot about opera that I don't understand. I really don't have any kind of background in music theory and appreciation, so there was a lot that went over my head or just didn't register on my radar. Still, there were a few pieces I enjoyed and after two times through the list of clips I was starting to not be totally put off by opera.
The discussion was quite informative, in part because the guy leading the discussion happens to be a professional opera singer, but also because there were a lot of people at the discussion who knew a lot as well. At the end of the evening, he sang a short piece for us (while playing it on the piano to boot), and I have to say that it was definitely impressive. How a person can sing that loud without yelling is beyond me -- and I imagine he was toning it down a bit since we were just in his living room. I have to say I enjoyed the evening quite a bit, and armed with a newly acquired list of operas that he recommended for first-timers, I'd be a bit more inclined to see one. Not sure I'd go out of my way, but if someone invited me to one, I'd be less inclined to say no.