A Guide to Opera for Novices

Legendary opera queen Maria Callas once said, “An opera begins before the curtain goes up and ends long after it has come down. It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I’ve left the opera house.”

The prospect of going to the opera for the first time can seem a little daunting for opera novices. Follow these five guidelines and you will soon be singing to a different tune.  


The selection process
When choosing your first opera, consider your familiarity with the story and the music before booking your tickets. Many people may recognise the famous ‘Toreador Song’ from Carmen or you may have seen the stage production of Miss Saigon, which is based on the story Madame Butterfly. Do some research first by checking out the venue’s website for the page summaries on each opera to help you decide.


What to wear
Though black tie and evening dresses used to be the compulsory opera dress code, today all you need is comfortable, smart casual dress. It can, of course, be fun to dress up for the opera, so don’t be shy to frock up and enjoy the occasion. You won’t look out of place, many ladies dress up for this very occasion.


Grand entrance
Opera performances always start on time. Latecomers are not allowed in until there is an appropriate break in the production. This can range from five minutes to the end of the first act. Avoid ‘lockout’ by arriving on time.


Nothing lost in translation
Opera singers spend years training their voices. This is so they can perform exceptionally difficult roles without microphones and over the top of a big orchestra. Though many operas are written in foreign languages, there are no barriers to understanding what’s going on in the dialogue. This is where surtitles come in. Surtitles are instant English translations of the opera, projected on a screen above the stage.


After the curtain falls
Opera is art. It is an enchanting mix of the senses. Post performance, if people are discussing the interpretation of the show, they’re discussing the music, the different points of view that a conductor or director brought to that piece, because a lot of the pieces have been played for more than 200 years. Post-opera conversation will often centre on comparisons to previous versions, so listen and be educated on the different perspectives you hear.

Last, but not least, make sure you avoid these 4 critical mistakes when attending your first opera.

Opera Australia features performances in Sydney and Melbourne and New Zealand Opera runs shows in Auckland and Wellington.

What other tips would you give for first timers?


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