What happened when you went to your first opera? Or the last time you told someone you went to an opera?
Did they say they love Phantom of the Opera? Did they laugh and say, “wow”? Maybe they just smiled and said, “that sounds nice.” Chances are they don’t love opera the way you do, because there are simply more people who just see opera as “artsy” and nothing else. And it’s easy to understand why.
Today most songs playing on the radio are about 3 minutes long. The films that most people see follow a formula that provides up and downs at just the right moment and guarantee a happy ending. People rely on 10 second Snapchat’s to talk to their friends and interact with each other by watching viral videos and sharing pictures of cats on their Facebook page.
Then there is opera.
In today’s entertainment world opera sticks out like a sore thumb. Opera’s have dozens of different types of vocal ranges, usually are not in English, and can have extremely complicated plots. Of course, opera’s are hours longer than the average attention span today too. Wagner’s Ring Cycle is 15 hours for crying out loud! Most people can’t sit through an hour of TV without checking their phone or flipping to another channel.
Then when someone talks about opera they might as well be speaking another language. The script becomes a libretto. A comedy becomes an opera buffa. A drama becomes an opera seria. The lead actress is a prima donna. So it’s understandable why outsiders have second thoughts about going to the opera.
So what are you supposed to do if you’re taking someone to the opera for the first time? Follow our checklist to find out!
1. Put yourself in their shoes.
Opera can be intimidating to newcomers. Most people think of snobby aristocrats in jeweled dresses and tuxedos when they think about opera. Check for a dress code at the opera you plan to go to, if there is a formal dress code it may not be a good first opera, and let your new comer know they can wear whatever they’d like and establish the opera as a comfortable environment.
2. Choose the right show.
Newcomers may want to see the shows that they recognize the name of, but some of the famous operas may not be a good fit for first timers. For example, they may be pining to see the show that Ride of the Valkyries is in, but that could be a mistake. Don’t take your new comer to a dense show that you know could bore them to tears. Take them to a lively, animated show that puts the passion and beauty of the opera front and center. It’s better to spend one night at a SpongeBob opera and eventually share opera with your friend, than ruin it for them in one night.
3. Explain subtitles and why they are necessary.
Would you want to go to a show if you didn’t understand a word they said? Let them know that when translating an opera, the translation must have the same number of syllables to match the music as the original language and rhyme too. If the show you chose is going to be in a language your newcomer doesn’t speak explain to them that the words will be projected above the stage in English.
4. Make sure they eat.
Going to the opera isn’t like going to the movies. There are no noisy snacks and the performance is much longer than the typical movie and even most plays. Make sure your new opera goer knows what to expect and that they are prepared. Eat a light meal before the show and plan for a larger meal after. If they are determined to bring something into the show, make sure they unwrap it before the show starts. The same rule applies for trips to the restroom.
5. Give them a quick opera lesson.
A quick lesson on opera lingo is a simple way to make the opera a little less foreign. Let them know that you yell bravo for male singers, brava for female singers, and bravi for the entire cast. Get there early and show them the orchestra pit. If you show and tell them some of opera’s quirks the show will seem less foreign and they’ll have something to remember about their first trip to the opera.
6. Let them know what’s appropriate and what’s not.
Like we said, going to the opera isn’t like going to the movies. Standard operas don’t use microphones or any amplification, making the performances much more challenging for the singer and much more rewarding for the audience. But it doesn’t take very much ruffling through a bag of chips or whispering to get in the way of that. Let your newcomer know there are no microphones, once they know chances are they ‘ll be even more excited to see the show and will be ready to help everyone around them enjoy the show.
What other tips would you give to first time opera goers?