If you have never been to the opera, it is natural to feel awkward about your first time. A colourful cast of characters periodically break into song, most probably in a language you do not speak. The stage sets are elaborate and lavish, and there is a whole orchestra backing up the whole operation. All around you are well-dressed people who seem to understand all this folly much better than you. More importantly: they are enjoying it. They laugh at the right moments, gasp at the plot twists, and subtly sway with every turn of musical phrase. You are all but convinced you don’t fit in there. Right? Wrong!
Throughout its rich history, opera has been predominantly an artform for wide consumption. It is an inclusive and welcoming genre, full of genuine human emotion, relatable characters, and familiar stories that bring people together. So, the first step before seeing your first opera is to drop the false prejudices and misconceptions! There is no reason you should deprive yourself of this pleasure. Here are a few tips to help you make attending opera for the first time a success that will set you up for many happy returns.
Pick an Opera You Know You Will Like
What we generically call ‘opera’ is in fact a whole family of different works of art. Think of ‘film’ as a category: there are dramas, comedies, romance and action movies, thrillers, as well as crossovers between two or more genres. Opera is no different, and you are truly spoilt for choice. Do a little research and use your taste in other art forms to pick a great first opera to attend.
For example, if you enjoy comedies, why not start with The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini? If you long for a good romantic comedy, then surely L’elisir d’amore by Gaetano Donizetti will satisfy. If you like adventure and fairy tales, The Magic Flute by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Turandot by Giacomo Puccini are both great picks. Should you be in the mood for something more serious, Giuseppe Verdi’s epic dramas Rigoletto, Otello or Nabucco will take you right in. If crime, action, and quick plot development are your thing, then look into Puccini’s Tosca, Cavalleria rusticana by Pietro Mascagni, or Pagliacci by Ruggiero Leoncavallo, all of which are renowned for their fast-paced, nearly real-time flow.
Do a Little Homework
Once you have picked the genre and specific opera you will see, do a bit of research. Nowadays, information is at your fingertips after all. Read up on the plot, learn the major characters’ names, maybe even listen to the stand-out arias. Many operas are performed in their original languages, so if you are not proficient in Italian, French, or German, you might not be able to follow the dialogue closely. Many modern productions include subtitles displayed above the stage to help guide you through the performance, but doing a little homework will definitely improve your understanding and maximise your enjoyment.
Make Yourself Comfortable and Enjoy
Before attending your first opera, you are surely thinking about what to wear. Perhaps you are even feeling a little self-conscious about not having anything ‘proper’ to wear. The good news is that modern opera performances do not come with a strict dress code anymore, so no need to don a smocking, a pressed shirt, and a bowtie – unless you want to, of course! As a rule, dress in a way that feels presentable and that would let you feel comfortable in the company of other typical operagoers. They, too, will likely be dressed along the spectrum from ‘fancy’ to ‘smart elegant’.
When you are in your seat and the performance begins, let the music and the onstage action take you in. If you feel like applauding or even shouting out your appreciation after a particularly moving aria, duet or orchestral passage, there is no need to hold back. The artists will appreciate your positive feedback, too! Especially when attending opera for the first time, it is important that you connect with this wonderful artform in the way that is best for you. Only then can you develop a long-lasting, sincere appreciation that will keep you coming back for more.