How to Sit Through Opera
Whether you’re attending your first opera or have attended one before, you may not know how to fully appreciate it. Opera is a musical art form that can evoke profound emotions through its characters, costuming, and music. Even if you’ve never considered yourself a music buff, you can have an enjoyable night at the opera. By the end of the performance, you may even become a budding opera connoisseur!
Part One of Three:
Read the opera’s plot summary. Researching the opera’s plot can help you understand what emotions and themes each song is trying to convey. If the opera you want to see is in a language you don’t know, look for the plot online to help you understand the performance better.
Listen to the opera music beforehand. While you’re getting ready for the event, put on a few of the opera’s songs to listen to as background music. Familiarizing yourself with the music will help you get accustomed to how opera sounds beforehand so you can focus more on enjoyment at the actual event.
Learn some opera terminology. Knowing key opera terms will help you understand more when reading through the show’s brochure or listening to other opera-goers. An aria, for example, is a song where the characters say what they are feeling whereas a recitative is more like a musical line that gives context to the plot. Research these and other common terminology in the days before the opera.
Opera 101 offers a comprehensive glossary of opera terms called “Opera ABC”: https://www.theopera101.com/operaabc/glossary/
Check how long the opera runs. Depending on how many acts an opera has and how long intermission is, its runtime can last anywhere from 2 hours to 4+ hours. Visit the theater or opera house’s website for its overall length.
If you’re new to opera, choose a shorter one if possible.
Some longer operas include a dinner break for patrons to stretch their legs and mingle before watching the last acts. Even if your opera does not have a dinner break, it should include at least 1 intermission.
Dress for the occasion. Wearing the appropriate clothes can help you fit in with the crowd if you feel out of place among opera-goers. Although many venues don’t require a dress code, people tend to dress formally for evening shows and more casually for matinees. Ask the specific theater about their dressing norms a few days in advance, as every venue is different.
Have a light dinner or snack before the opera. Because operas tend to be longer than the average musical, eating something beforehand can keep you in a good mood and focused on the play. Most theaters do not allow guests to bring food or drink into the venue, so eating beforehand is always the safest option.
Drinking something with caffeine, like tea or soda, can help you stay alert if you tend to doze off during musical productions.
Some theaters allow patrons to eat hard candy, cough drops, or gum during the performance. Ask ahead if you think something to chew on might help you pay attention.
Plan to come at least a half hour early. Entering the venue at least 30 minutes before the show starts will give you time to explore the theater, find your seats, and get comfortable. Remember to take a quick bathroom break and turn your phone on silent before the production starts to avoid disturbing those around you.
Part Two of Three:
Understanding the Plot
Read the opera’s synopsis in the brochure. The synopsis can give you the overall gist of what the production’s about and help you differentiate between the main characters. It may also have a brief outline of the acts and major arias. Refer to the synopsis throughout the evening if you feel lost or forget which character is which.
If you can, bring someone with you who has seen the opera before so you can ask them questions during the intermission.
Pay attention to the translation if you feel confused. Many operas have translations for guests to follow along with either in a brochure or on a back-screen behind the stage. Read these subtitles if you want to know what a character is singing about and follow closely along with the music.
Don’t spend the whole time staring at the subtitles screen. If you’re not paying attention to the stage, you may miss out on the opera’s beauty.
Focus more on the music than the dialogue. While reading the subtitles and paying attention to the plot is important, the meaning of an opera is best transferred through the music itself. During major arias, take a break from reading the translations and try to immerse yourself in the singers and the orchestra.
If you are fluent in another language, like Italian or Russian, seeing an opera in that language may help you understand the plot and its emotional intensity at the same time.
Bring or rent a pair of opera glasses to see more detail. Opera glasses, or theater binoculars, can help you see costumes and theatrical expressions clearly. Most opera venues allow patrons to rent a pair of opera glasses if you don’t want to put the money into a pair.
Part Three of Three:
Appreciating and Enjoying Opera
Relate the opera to something that you enjoy. If you’re having a hard time connecting to the opera, try comparing it to something you do understand. If you love fashion, for example, study the intricate costumes. Or if you’re a Broadway fan, think about the similarities and differences of opera and musicals. Focusing on the elements you do understand can keep you from getting bored.
Take a break during the intermission. Sometimes, sitting still for too long during an opera can make people feel restless. Don’t stay in your seat during the intermission. Use it as an opportunity to stretch your legs, talk to your neighbor, or get a quick snack outside. Pay attention to how long the intermission lasts so you can get back to your seat by the next act.
Let yourself run with the emotional intensity of opera. Opera is known for expressing powerful feelings through the dialogue and song. Immerse yourself in the emotional experience: laugh at the comedic parts, gasp during surprises, and cry when the characters face tragedy. Putting yourself in the characters’ perspectives can make opera a fun and cathartic experience.
Operas are made to stand on their own as a form of expression without necessarily knowing the language. Don’t worry too much about understanding the characters or the plot. You can still appreciate the music abstractly.
If you tend to tear up when you feel strong emotions, you may want to bring some tissues just in case.
Wait until others clap before applauding. Unlike musical theater, opera patrons often clap during the production. But there is still some structure as to whether the audience should clap—after a particularly moving aria or act is most acceptable. If you’re not sure whether to clap, watch the audience and try to follow their lead.
If you want to compliment a particular singer, shout bravo (male), brava (female), or bravi (gender neutral/plural).
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I want to be counted!
What if I accidentally start to like opera? Answered by wikiHow Contributor
That’s great! You’ve discovered a new interest. You should do some research to find more operas that you like, and perhaps make attending the opera a regular event.
The opera I’m going to tonight is 5 hours long, and I saw it once already with my friends. What should I do? Answered by wikiHow Contributor
Just try to enjoy the moment as best as you can! If you get uninterested, then maybe go to take a bathroom break (no longer than like 3 minutes).
Do not film, photograph, or record the production in any way unless you have explicit permission to do so.
Even if you disliked the opera, don’t insult the production while you’re at the venue. Respect the singers, musicians, and stagehands who worked hard to put the opera together.
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About This Article
Updated: January 25, 2018
Categories: Featured Articles | Arts and Entertainment
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