Unveiling the Therapeutic Power of Opera: How Opera Positively Impacts Us

By Ryan Smith

Music is multidimensional and can resonate with people of different cultures, backgrounds, beliefs, and so on, in very different ways. Because of how subjective music is, it is difficult to provide a systematic explanation of what music arouses in us emotionally, because people respond to the same and also different songs differently. However, while it’s difficult to concisely explain what “music” does, it can resonate with us deeply.

Our musical interpretation is subjective, and while this means that not everyone will like the same form of music, it allows us to form deeper and more meaningful connections with particular genres, instruments, singers, lyricists, conductors, and so on. Opera is something which many of us can find empowering and deeply emotional, allowing listeners to deeply resonate with it, making it incredibly personal. Because of how much music can incite these personal feelings, it has the potential to yield a wealth of mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits – paving the way for the use of music therapy and opera therapy – whether inside or outside the clinical environment.

The Therapeutic Power of Opera

Music is subjective, and this can be the same for opera. However, what makes opera different from many other forms of music is that it is employed to convey a story or a plot. The idea that music can communicate someone’s thoughts more effectively than words is inherent to the genre of opera. It places a huge emphasis on artistic and emotional expression. And because of this, it can be argued that opera is far more emotional and resonates much deeper with its listeners
than other genres do. Opera does not confine itself only to lyrics, it heavily focuses on dramatic acting, vengeful passion, intricate melody, wide ranging harmonic frequencies, careful lighting, orchestra, performance, and more. Many of its themes include romance and tragedy, which are deeply emotional.

The common inflections, changes of pace, and its themes of romance and tragedy encapsulate life so accurately – as our emotions are never constant, but ever changing according to internal and external factors. As opera singers do not use microphones, they need to greatly amplify their voices – making the resonance and power of their performance even greater. Because of this, opera – and opera therapy (a sub branch of music therapy) requires a greater intensity when it comes to emotional, sensory, and physical involvement [1]. Regardless of who you are or who the singer or artist is, each of us undergo hardships which
mirror each other’s lives in some way. Not only does this make it a highly popular and sophisticated genre, it makes it a viable was to treat patients who are suffering from a range of illnesses. While opera itself is not a primary form of treatment to confront debilitating mental or physical disorders, it can provide emotional purging and catharsis, encourage activity, exercise creative freedom and self-autonomy, and much more, making it a genre which deeply engages with its listeners.

What is Music Therapy?

While many people may view music or opera as merely an interest or passion, it can be used for so much more. Music therapy is a form of psychological clinical intervention, and it consists of using music – in whatever form or genre – as a holistic way to treat someone who is dealing with illness whether physically or mentally.
Because of how powerful music can be, it can yield a profound range of effects on our well-being in the therapeutic or recovery environment. While it may seem unlikely at first, music therapy can help us improve the conditions of our cognitive and behavioural processes, and in turn improve our general wellbeing and mental

As soprano singer Maria Callas stated: “To sing is an expression of your being, a being which is becoming.” This means that expression, through song, can help facilitate our development, whether emotional, mental, spiritual, or other. However, one size does not fit all, and music therapy will need to draw from personalization in order to tailor and cater to the patient’s unique needs and yield positive results. Someone who has a passion for opera may not benefit from music therapy if the music therapist only used heavy rock, and vice versa. Similarly, the therapeutic power of opera will vary from one person to the next.
Personalisation is key to all forms of therapy, including music therapy.

How Music Can Benefit People Mentally, Emotionally, and Spiritually

There is a vast range of benefits which can be had by taking part in music therapy – or listening to music in general. The type of benefits and their scale will vary according to many different factors, such as the person’s unique characteristics, their preferred music tastes, illnesses, the music played, and so on.

The therapeutic power of opera and music in general includes but is not limited to:

● Improves mood, reduces anxiety and stress: Listening to music we enjoy can release dopamine [2] – the naturally occurring chemical happy chemical in our brain.
Dopamine is responsible for making us experience pleasure and happiness, and music can trigger the release of this hormone. This is also why people may find it
easier to work while listening to work – because they are experiencing a dopamine release while working.

● Emotional exploration: While it can improve our moods, it can also make us experience sadness and it may even make us cry. Why sadness is often associated
with negative, this actually allows us to confront our emotions. This can act as a form of emotional catharsis – as crying can help release pent up stress and anxiety which has been bothering us.

● Improve communication: In addition to exposing us to a new range of vocabulary, annunciations, rhythms, harmony, and more, music can help people who suffer from communication impediments. Independently communicating and selecting words can be stressful and anxiety ridden for some people, however, when there is an established rhythm and beat, singing the words can help people express themselves.

● Developing deeper breathing patterns: A patient who takes part in opera practice will learn how to breathe at deeper levels in order to maximise and amplify their
voice. Not only can this improve their opera capabilities, it will teach them to be more mindful of their breathing, which again can greatly reduce levels of stress and

● Improve relaxation: Patients and people in general do not have to actively take part in the music that is playing, they can simply unwind and appreciate the ambience that it is creating.

● Improve communication and social skills: Music is an artistic expression, and opera especially, and this can help its listeners navigate particular feelings which
they have previously struggled to externalise. Whether it is the lyrics, harmony, or rhythm which resonates with them, it can help patients externalise their thoughts and feelings.

● Improves self-confidence: Music can be empowering, and incorporating music into your daily activities can help you carry out these actions with more self assurance and confidence.

How Are Music Therapy Sessions Structured?

During a session of music therapy, licensed music therapists who are registered on the Health and Care Professional Council will lead and personalise the sessions in order to optimise the efficacy of treatment. Music therapists are specialised in multiple disciplines – health or social care and music. This means that the licensed therapist will be one who is well versed in both health practice and also music, not only one aspect.

The patient will undergo a health assessment in order to understand the forms of treatment that they require to improve their psychological, emotional, or other needs. The music therapist will use this information as well as the patient’s unique personality traits and interests in order to optimise their recovery.

Throughout the recovery journey, the musical therapist will track the patient’s progress. According to the patient’s progress – or lack thereof – the musical therapist will adjust some of the factors of the music therapy sessions in order to optimise the patient’s responsiveness to treatment methods.

The licensed music therapist will work with their patient to use instruments and musical language in order to improve communicative expression. It allows patients to engage at different frequencies, as they can exercise their independence and creative freedom.

The patient may take part in a wide range of activities including but not limited to:

● Creating and composing music
● Singing and learning how to manipulate the voice to optimise performance
● Learning an instrument or developing already existing instrumental skills
● Dancing and movement
● Listening to music
● Navigating lyrics

There is much room for flexibility when it comes to music and opera therapy. The licensed  music therapist will understand that confidence levels, personality, and other factors will vary between patients.

Patients are free to only listen to music and discuss the meaning of its rhythm and lyrics if they so wish, whereas others who are more independent and active may seek to create their own form of music which correlates with how they’re feeling. More expressive patients may utilise movement through dance in order to express
themselves and improve their mood. It is possible that a certain genre – especially one as emotional as opera – can incite feelings associated with negativity such as sadness or grief. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as this can facilitate emotional catharsis which is integral to the healing process of many different issues.

However, in order to navigate these feelings sensitively and not to trigger any feelings of unresolved grief or trauma, the music therapist will come to understand you before initiating many therapeutic methods in order to ease you into treatment.

Do I Need to Be Able to Sing or Play Instruments to Take Part in Music and Opera Therapy?

Music and opera therapy is accessible to everyone provided that they have the ability to listen to music. Even for patients who are hard of hearing or even deaf, opera is a very theatrical and visually stimulating performance, which can make it accessible to these patients.

This means that you do not need to have any musical ability or knowledge in order to take part, and most importantly, benefit from music and opera therapy. Engaging activities related to music and opera therapy come in a wide range of forms in order to make it accessible to all patients regardless of their levels of musical ability.

Who Can Benefit From Music Therapy and Opera?

The therapeutic power of opera or any other form of music is wide ranging and not limited to
any age.

Whether it’s a newborns who require soothing music to help them relax or develop healthy relationships with their environments, a teenager or young adult who requires anxiety treatment, or an elderly person who is suffering from dementia, music therapy is not exclusive to any age and also caters to a wide range of illnesses.
However, it is important to note that music therapy is usually used in addition to other forms of treatment, and it is not usually used as the primary form of treatment. It is most effective when complimenting other forms of psychotherapy treatment such as

Cognitive Behavioural Treatment, for example. Music and opera therapy can benefit people who are suffering from a range of conditions,
including but not limited to:

● Anxiety and Depression: While studies are still limited, results are encouraging when it comes to seeing the positive effects that music therapy can have in treating
psychological illnesses such as anxiety disorder and depression [3].

● Dementia: Music can be a powerful way to trigger positive feelings for someone suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia [4]. Although people suffering from a
neurodegenerative disease such as dementia increasingly struggle with the ability to memorise or communicate, listening to music can not only improve the moods of the patient suffering from dementia, but it can help facilitate memorisation.

● Traumatic brain injuries: It is thought that music can help foster recovery of cognitive functions and communication among patients who have suffered from a
traumatic brain injury (TBI).

● Stroke: In addition to traumatic brain injuries, patients may lose the ability to speak if they suffer from a stroke. Patients who have lost the ability to speak can benefit profoundly from music therapy, because it does not require that the patient is able to speak. And since they may not be able to benefit from communicative therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, music therapy can be a great way to supplement treatment methods.

● Cancer: While music of course cannot cure illnesses such as cancer, it can greatly increase the quality of life for the patient by improving mood, decreasing stress, pain, anxiety level and enhancing relaxation, according to a number of studies [5]. Another study ‘revealed positive effects of music therapy [6] on decreasing levels of
depression and anxiety in patients with cancer’. The Henry Ford Cancer Institute also revealed the numerous benefits that music therapy had on its patients [7].

● Substance Use Disorders: Drug and alcohol addiction can be combated with a comprehensive addiction treatment program at a drug and alcohol rehab [8], and
music therapy can complement these programmes profoundly. Music therapy is a form of holistic therapy and can greatly improve recovery rates and help patients
sustain a life of abstinence by exposing them to new interests and coping mechanisms through music.

It is again important to note that you do not need to be able to play instruments or have a beautiful singing voice to be able to benefit from opera and music therapy.
Music is inclusive – we are all capable of responding to rhythm, lyrics, and other aspects of music which incite emotions within us.

We can each interpret music by navigating and discussing lyrics, appreciating a singer’s voice, the use of particular instruments, harmony, or other, and this makes music therapy accessible to many patients suffering from illnesses around the globe.

Can Music and Opera Therapy Improve My Child’s Wellbeing?

Music and opera therapy can improve the wellbeing and social skills of children who are exhibiting behavioral issues, learning difficulties, or emotional problems.

Children are naturally inquisitive, meaning that they will want to take part in activities that interest them and exercise their autonomy within particular areas.
Although opera traverses a range of mature themes such as romance and tragedy, children can still take part in the activities associated with music and opera therapy in order to improve their mental wellbeing and behavioral patterns.

[1] Caring Through Music: Music Therapy and Opera Therapy Opera
[2] From the Cover: Dopamine Modulates the Reward Experiences Elicited by Music
[3] Reviewing the Effectiveness of Music Interventions in Treating Depression
[4] Music and Dementia https://www.dementiauk.org/information-and-support/living-with-
[5] Music Theory in Supporting Cancer Care
[6] The Effects of Music Therapy on Anxiety and Depression of Cancer Patients
[7] Detroit Symphony Orches & Michigan Opera Theatre Partner with Henry Ford Centre
Institute for Music Therapy Program https://operawire.com/detroit-symphony-orchestra-
[8] Rehab Recovery https://www.rehab-recovery.co.uk/


Special Features