Worsley Gets An Encore

An operatic history of Venice, Vienna and Milan
Forgive this philistine, but I’ve missed out on the joy of opera throughout my life. My infrequent experiences have been of a good snooze repeatedly interrupted by clanging from the orchestra pit and bellowing from the stage (to adapt the quip that Mark Twain never said of golf as ‘a good walk ruined’). Lucy Worsley’s Nights at the Opera (Saturday, BBC2, 9pm) is an inspirational corrective to such ignorance.

For starters, the sparkling La Worsley – effervescently, effortlessly educative – gently points out that even those of us who thought we didn’t like opera have in fact long been relishing its jewels, just without realising, and particularly at the movies or on TV. Take the adrenaline- pumping Ride of the Valkyries ushering in the helicopter gunships in Apocalypse Now, or ‘that football song’ (as World Cup fans know it) which is Pavarotti’s rendition of Nessun Dorma.

But this two-part series is also an entrancing historical tour, with visits to Wagner’s Bayreuth, and Paris – the city of Bizet’s Carmen – to come. This week, though, the story must naturally begin in Italy, where Worsley traces the origins of opera to Venice in the 17th century, when monied merchants and decadent libertines were searching for new extravaganzas with which to entertain their guests. After which it’s off to Mozart’s joyous Vienna and the Milan where Verdi provided the soundtrack for the birth of an independent Italy. Do just give me a nudge if I start dozing off.