Nowadays, we are no longer afraid of horror films, we do not admire astonishing special effects, and we follow even the most poignant stories with an unnerving sense of calm and disinterest. All this has become “the new normal.”
But there is something that can awaken a fire in our hearts and completely immerse us in the world of complex, intricate feelings and experiences. Of course, we are talking about the opera!
In our new episode, we are going to provide you with a step-by-step guide to enjoy the opera as a modern viewer. So, let’s get started!
In the public consciousness, opera has long been associated with the negative imagery of the upper classes — many people believe opera is overly snobbish, heavy, elitist, and out of touch with the modern pace of life. But the truth is that there is so much more to the opera; there’s drama, acting, singing, instrumental play, and dance — all of which can be a salvation for modern people who are tired of the same old monotonous entertainment.
But with so much history and so many years of amazing operas to talk about, where should we begin? First and foremost, we should begin with a few common fears and insecurities of modern audiences. To help you overcome the stigmas associated with opera, we’re going to offer a few simple steps that will help you become a regular at the opera house in no time!
Step 1: Preparation
Nowadays, people still know how to appreciate the complexities of music, but many have lost the skill of remaining attentive to long-form musical numbers. Therefore, we recommend that you gradually get used to long pieces of music by adding them to your daily playlist. Collections of the most famous opera numbers will come in handy. This way, when you go to the opera house, you will be able to recognise some of the pieces in the performance.
Our recommendation? Start with collections from operas by Rossini, Verdi, and Puccini — as they are easy to read and incredibly beautiful.
Step 2: Getting Started
So, which opera should you go to first? Naturally, you may gravitate toward the work of Wagner or Britten, but still, it’s better to start slow. Choose an opera that is already well-integrated into popular culture, with music that you’ve probably heard in countless movies, tv shows, and commercials. For example, you might want to try: "La Traviata" by Verdi, "Carmen" by Bizet, "The Marriage of Figaro" by Mozart, or "La Bohème" by Puccini.
That said, our special recommendation is Rossini's “The Barber of Seville,” because it is both dramatic and hilarious. These positive emotions will reinforce your desire to return to the theater again and again!
Step 3: Choosing a Seat
Thanks to the Internet, buying a ticket for the opera is a breeze, but choosing the best seat is a whole other issue! If you are going to visit a modern opera house, built on the principle of equal opportunities in terms of stage visibility, then you’ll want to aim for the middle of the hall, with a little bit of distance from the stage. This will give you the best visual and acoustic experience.
However, if you are going to an old or historical theater, there are other factors to consider! On the one hand, finely decorated boxes are great for posting content on Instagram, but these boxes were often created to save space and allow a privileged audience to listen to the opera in private. The keyword here is “listen,” not “watch,” because boxes don’t always provide the best view. Thus, you should aim for seats in the stalls (ground floor seats) in the center of the hall. Modern opera directors work real miracles with their staging and visual artistry, so it would be a real shame to watch the performance from a poor vantage point!
Step 4: Getting Ready For The Theatre
In the old days, going to the opera required formal dress. While many modern viewers still respect this tradition, it is not uncommon to see attendees in jeans and tennis shoes. The comfort, practicality, and individuality of our modern times give you more flexibility to choose the kind of outfit you want to wear. And although some theaters still publish dress code recommendations, no one will blame you for wanting to be comfortable.
Nonetheless, we recommend treating a trip to the opera as an exceptional event, a holiday that breaks from the routine of everyday life. It’s like going to a gala event where the very best of culture and art come to meet! So, think about the kind of “costume” you would choose for such a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Step 5: Arriving At The Auditorium
Many people believe that if you don’t drink a glass of champagne before the opera, you’ll lose the magic of the experience. While this is partly hyperbolic, there is some truth to it. After all, a glass of champagne can help you relax in an otherwise “stuffy” environment. If you can’t relax, you may find your mind wandering with endless preoccupations. Am I applauding correctly? Do I look interested enough in the show? Did I remember to lock the door when I left the house? Why didn't John share gum with me in the second grade?
Fortunately, a glass of sparkling wine can help you to relax a little, leaving your unnecessary worries at the door. By adding champagne to your evening, you are simply removing mental obstacles on your path to pleasure. You look great, the show is magical, the people are beautiful, so why not celebrate a little? If you want to make the experience even better, consider having a small slice of cake with your beverage!
Step 6: In The Opera House
Once you arrive and take your seat, you’ve already gotten over the biggest hurdles! Just take a selfie for social media (don’t forget to capture the orchestra and beautiful environment in the background) and then turn your phone off. Now you can enjoy the show and let all of your acquaintances know how refined and sophisticated you are at the same time!
Just remember, when the lights start to dim, finish your conversations and focus your full attention on the show. The most important rule of going to the opera is that when the music sounds — everyone should observe complete silence! Even if you want to share your experiences, observations or witty commentary with your loved ones out of excitement, please be quiet; you can save all that for the intermission. This will not only allow you to focus on the opera, but it will also show respect to your fellow attendees. The one exception to this rule is coughing, because we are all human and we can’t always control it!
Fortunately, operas today are much easier to follow than they were in years past. Nowadays, most opera houses are equipped with live captions and subtitles, so that knowledge of foreign languages is not required. However, you’ll still need to know a little about the structure of traditional operas so that you can fully enjoy the experience!
The average opera consists of detailed arias and various ensembles, which showcase the talent of the singers and the inner monologues of the characters. With rare exceptions, there is no plot development during these numbers, so you can easily understand the meaning of the subtitles and completely immerse yourself in the music. In other words, you do not need to worry much about missing an important plot point.
The development of the plot takes place during recitations. These free-form declamations imitate natural speech, so you can easily recognize them for their simple instrumentation and lack of structure. These are the moments when you’ll really need to focus on the subtitles!
When it comes to applauding, It is better to do so when the curtain closes. In some rare cases, the entire audience may burst into applause after a particularly impressive aria or ensemble. Naturally, you can join in when this happens! It is also not forbidden to shout out something encouraging or clear your throat while everyone else is clapping loudly.
And most importantly, remember: if you fall asleep, it’s not the end of the world. You are still a good person! Over the years, thousands of people have fallen asleep during operas. Why? Because music can induce a kind of meditative state in many people. But if you do fall asleep during the performance, just try not to snore!
Step 7: Talking About The Opera
After the performance, be sure to discuss what you saw with your loved ones or write a detailed post on social media. Try to convey your impression of the opera in as much detail as possible. You can talk about anything: from the chandelier in the hall to the dress of one of the chorus girls. What you want to talk about is not so important! The main thing is that you share your thoughts and emotions. After all, we only begin to truly love something when we let ourselves talk about it!