Few can deny that opera is an acquired taste, but one thing we can be certain of is its impact on society. Culturally, the originally Italian art form transformed music from the time of its sixteenth century conception, and eventually grew into an industry reaching much of the world. WikiProject Opera, however, isn't quite that old, but it covers over five hundred years worth of operas, composers, singers, and many other people who come under its scope. To find out more, we talked to three contributors to the project: Shoemaker's Holiday, Voceditenore and Folantin.
How do you contribute to the Project mainly?
Shoemaker's Holiday: I work largely in sounds and pictures, though I help out with article-writing to some extent. we've also been working on an opera portal recently, which has a lot of my featured pictures and sounds featured in it.
I find it easy to get caught up in the opera project "pushes", so am particularly looking forward to other attempts to get one or more Henry Purcell articles up to featured status, so it can run on the main page on the 350th anniversary of his birthday later this year.
Voceditenore: I mainly work on writing new articles and expanding stubs. But I also help out with "housekeeping" jobs – participating in opera-related Articles for deletion discussions, checking daily for newly created articles that are relevant to the project (many of them are by editors new to Wikipedia and need to be formatted and categorized), and maintaining the Opera Project's main page and talk page. Lately, I've also become involved in re-vamping the Opera Portal.
Folantin: Until January, I spent most of my time creating new articles on individual operas and general opera topics (including obscure areas such as Armenian opera). Now I'm more interested in improving the depth rather than the breadth of our coverage. At the moment I'm working on the Henry Purcell pages along with other members from the project. I also watch out for vandalism and have several hundred opera pages on my list. Fortunately, we don't get many vandals in this area (this is not a request for more!).
Let's talk about your personal contributions to the Project. Shoemaker's Holiday, you're known for restoration work. How would you go about this?
Shoemaker's Holiday: I haven't actually done as much image work on operas as I'd like. This might require a little explanation.
Basically, in order to restore an image, you need access to either a copy of the image, or to a high-quality, high-resolution scan. There's very little you can do if they're too small. The only place I've found images online worth restoring is the Library of Congress, and I've done the vast majority of the ones they have that are worth doing already.
That said, I have been lucky on a few points: I'm willing to spend a certain amount of money every month to acquire things for use on Wikipedia. Last month, I got a copy of the French newspaper, L'Illustration, which reported on the first ever production of Jules Massenet's Le Cid, with four large engravings. One of these I need to sort out a larger scanner for - it's a two-page spread of the finale, about A2-size. Both of the ones I've done so far easily reached featured picture status.
However, even if I keep buying newspapers, the "illustrated weeklies" (as they called them) first appeared in about 1844, started to get really good art in 1860 or so, and then the high-quality engravings all suddenly turn into very-low-quality half toning by 1900. During this period, they reported on most of the major operas; however, opera began in 1597, and operas continue to be composed to this day, so this gives me sources for only a small part of opera's history. I'll take what I can get, but until we start getting access to the archives of the major opera houses, it's going to be hard to fill in the other periods.
I've done much more work with sound restoration, with about twenty or so opera-related sounds, and at least a dozen of those being featured sounds. As you can imagine, having recordings of opera is very, very useful from an encyclopaedic perspective: They allow the readers to at least get some idea what the opera sounds like, and to learn about the various composers' distinctive styles. We're limited somewhat by copyright, but a good chunk of early sound recordings were opera, and copyright rules are much more lenient for sound recordings than for images in most countries.
Voceditenore, how have you contributed to the Portal for the WikiProject?
Voceditenore: Our goal is to make it a Featured portal. We are very fortunate to have someone from WikiProject Portals working with us. His help has been invaluable in making the format and layout easy to maintain and in guiding us through the criteria for featured portals. My contribution has been to help expand the content of the "In this month", "Did you know?" and "Selected quote" sections. These can be important for catching the newcomer's interest and giving an idea of the breadth of the subject. Opera is a living art form that spans five centuries and every continent. It's performed in big arenas, magnificent theatres, city parks, country houses, churches, floating platforms, and even factories and warehouses.
Opera is a living art form that spans five centuries and every continent. It's performed in big arenas, magnificent theatres, city parks, country houses, churches, floating platforms, and even factories and warehouses.
Which areas of Opera are best covered by the WikiProject?
Shoemaker's Holiday: I think we have decent coverage of quite a lot of opera, but it's a big field - thousands of articles - and there aren't that many of us, so some of our coverage is still rather shallow and unpolished. Since about late 2008 we've been taking some major steps to fix that, adding improvement drives and such to the article creation drives that dominated our work formerly.
Voceditenore: In terms of breadth of coverage, I'd say it's in the area of operas by 19th century Italian composers. We have articles on 54 Donizetti operas and 39 Rossini operas alone, as well as articles on all of the operas by Bellini, Verdi, and Puccini. We also have many biographies of the singers who created the leading roles in those operas. In terms of depth and quality of coverage, I'd say that our strength up to now has been in Baroque opera. I should point out, though, that our two "daughter" projects, WikiProject Gilbert and Sullivan and WikiProject Richard Wagner, have also produced many good quality in-depth articles in their specialized areas, as has WikiProject Composers. (There is a considerable overlap in the membership of these four projects.)
Folantin: I agree with the others. I think our breadth of coverage is pretty good. Not only do we have a page on every Mozart opera, but we also have articles on 13 of his arch-rival Salieri's operas. We've probably neglected composer biographies a bit (although there is some overlap there with the Composers WikiProject) and some general topics could do with improvement.
What are the achievements of the WikiProject so far, and which goals has it set itself?
Voceditenore: There are currently 5,700 articles under the Opera Project banner, including over 1,800 biographies of opera singers. Just keeping our head above water is quite an achievement! Seriously though, the main achievement so far has been to greatly expand opera coverage on Wikipedia. The project was started in 2004, and by May 2006 there were 1,835 articles on opera, rising to 3,530 in June 2007. We reached the 5,000 milestone on September 4, 2008 with La púrpura de la rosa, the first known opera to be written and performed in the Americas. As Shoemaker's Holiday has pointed out, until recently our main goal has been to expand coverage, but we are now increasing our focus on improving the quality of our existing coverage as well. We have two project collaborations each month – one for each of our main goals. The "Composer of the Month" focuses on composers in the opera corpus whose key works still lack articles. The "Opera of the Month" focuses on improving existing articles.
Folantin: As Voceditenore says, we've covered a lot of ground given how few of us there are. The collaboration drives have been very productive (I think half a dozen of us created the bulk of this list within 24 hours). One of our tasks for the immediate future is to get at least one article about Henry Purcell or his operas to Featured Article status so it can appear on the main page to mark the 350th anniversary of his birth this September.
Shoemaker's Holiday: To give some numbers, we have three featured articles, three featured lists, and nine good articles. If the subsidiary projects are factored in, that rises to seven featured articles, and eighteen good. However, this is not really representative of the quality of our work. A lot of articles that probably could easily reach GA or even FA simply haven't yet been nominated.
Voceditenore: We are, of course, delighted when new members formally sign on to the project. But you don't have to be a member to get involved in the project's work. In fact, many interesting new articles have been created by first-time contributors to Wikipedia. And much fine work, particularly in producing articles about Mozart and his operas and in creating a series of detailed sortable lists of operas for individual composers, has been done by editors who are not formally members of the project. A good place for anyone to start is the "Can you help?" section on the project's main page which lists a variety of ways to contribute in addition to writing articles. Our project pages also have detailed guides on the style and format used in opera articles and a guide to online research which provides information on how to use and reference online sources and an extensive list of recommended web sites.
Folantin: As Voceditenore says, you don't even have to join to help out and some of the most productive editors on opera articles aren't formal members of the project. Having said that, I think the project improvement drives have attracted more editors, whether members or non-members, to work on opera than would have been the case. I've created stubs on plenty of obscure works and I'm amazed how often an expert new user has appeared and filled out the missing details. The project talk pages are there as a forum to discuss any issues about opera on Wikipedia and any editor is welcome to contribute. In spite of our small numbers, it's a very busy venue (there are over 80 pages of archives). Opera is an attractive area to edit because there is still plenty of work to do.