For some, the concept of opera is limited to Bugs Bunny chirping “Figaro, Figaro, Figaroooo!” For others, it is a way of life. I happen to lie somewhere along the line of “addict.” To me, opera is the ultimate combination of history, fashion, art, and music. It’s the most lavish, yet most sincere form of expression possible. Stereotypes and preconceived notions often make opera seem inaccessible to many, but it doesn’t take much investigation to find opera is a world literally (no, literally) filled with magic.
Opera is something I hope everyone has the opportunity to experience at one point or another. I sincerely encourage you to take advantage of the fact that companies are making initiatives to shed the snooty reputation and draw in a fresh, new audience. So, whether you’re being escorted to a performance by your great-aunt with the cats, or you bought yourself a ticket out of sheer curiosity, this mini-guide will help you make the most of it!
1.) Dress the Part
It seems ironic that sitting in a dark room for three hours would require looking as classy as you ever have in your life, but it does. Don’t tell me “But I just saw someone in jeans!” Their failure does not spill over onto you. For ladies, a dress or skirt in a non-cotton fabric, heels, and your second-best set of jewelry. For the gents, crisp trousers and a proper suit jacket will do. If you naturally look like a handsome renegade, you can go tie-less. Otherwise, you get the idea.
If you really have no clue where to start, follow T.I.L.–an acronym I just made up! Tasteful, Intellectual, and Lovely. If you still can’t figure out what you’re doing, just wear black.
2.) Know the Show
Opera isn’t exactly where you go for a big surprise ending. The same handful of shows are rotated throughout opera companies large and small alike. So unless you are witnessing some groundbreaking new production, chances are any given show has been around the block. The point I’m trying to make is that 99% of any opera audience knows what’s going to happen from start to finish in terms of plot. You don’t want to be “that guy” looking frantically around and whispering “Oh my God, did Butterfly just kill herself? I did not see that coming!”
3.) Know the Music
Chances are, the performance is not going to be in your native tongue. Most of the operas in the aforementioned canon are performed in Italian, French, or German. Knowing the word “bratwurst” isn’t going to get you very far in terms of emotional depth. While English subtitles often do accompany a performance, either above or below the stage itself, or on small screens in front of each seat, I discourage you from making these your go-to. Reading the subtitles quickly becomes a chore and draws so much focus away from the performance itself. For a truly unique experience, read the libretto beforehand. I guarantee you’ll remember key lines of poetry that always have a way of bubbling up into your brain during a show and literally taking your breath away. A very scientific explanation, I know. Just do it, okay?
4.) Know the Performers
Off the stage, opera is a strange little world filled with mystery, drama, and complete nonsense. Think of it this way: In what other industry do the performers have raw fruits and vegetables lobbed at them if they miss a note? Yeah, it’s all well and good to know that the soprano you’re currently watching performed in La Traviata last season, but did she storm out of rehearsals three times? Did that tenor’s voice crack when he sang Marcello in Vienna? It’s a bit like reading tabloids, except you have an intellectual and artistic excuse to do so.
5.) Have Fun!
Please don’t be the miserable businessman who is falling asleep in his seat because his only reason for being there is to close a deal during intermission. Just as you shouldn’t be a whiny child tugging on pantlegs, asking when it will be over. Appreciate the craft and the beauty of what you’re witnessing, but don’t take it too seriously. It’s not meant to be stuffy and uptight! It’s freeing and thrilling! Smile and get lost in the story!