Most newcomers to opera tend to step into the theater with little enthusiasm and low expectations. This is no surprise, what with all the nasty opera-related rumors these days! So, before I begin this article, I’d like to dispel some of those rumors. Madama Butterfly is not just for girls, Die Fledermaus has nothing to do with singing mice, and opera singers are not just fat ladies wearing horns and pigtails. Take my word for it– opera is one of the most passionate artforms out there. Going to the opera is not some kind of strange and outlandish excursion. So before taking that first journey to the opera house, that leap of faith across the musical abyss, shed any prejudices to opera that you may have had. Now let’s continue, because there are a few things that anyone should know before taking their seat at the “Met” (which is short for the Metropolitan Opera House of New York City).
1. Start off with a “lighter” opera before moving into the “heavy-duty” stuff. Some operas are just so intricate, modern, or simply long, that your faith in opera will be totally shattered if you start off with one of them. I once saw a production of Il Travatore where the scenery consisted of huge shreds of black and white cardboard that were torn at the edges… I can’t imagine an opera-newcomer enjoying that. Here’s another example: a production of Götterdämmerung can take up to five hours. Seeing Götterdämmerung as your first opera would be like jumping into a pool of ice water without dipping your toe in first. Here are some great choices that would be perfect for a first visit to the opera: Aida, Tosca, Pagliacci, La Boheme, Rigoletto, Cavalleria Rusticana, and Madama Butterfly. I’m sure there are many others that would make good “starters” but those are just a few that I came up with on the spot. In the end, just make sure that your entry into the world of opera is smooth, not jarring. After all, you’ve gotta walk before you can run.
2. When in doubt, go with Verdi. Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) wrote a staggering total of 35 operas in his lifetime, and is regarded by many to be the greatest composer of Italian opera who ever lived. His operas are truly timeless. Personally, Verdi is my favorite opera composer of all time. When I see a Verdi opera, everything else is shut out of my mind and I become completely immersed in what I’m hearing. In my opinion, no opera beats a Verdi opera.
3. Although this may vary from opera house to opera house, try to dress a little nicely. An opera is not a football game, so don’t come in jeans and a t-shirt. Men should try to wear a tie and a blazer, or at least just a collared shirt. I am not a woman, but I suppose that women should wear a dress or whatever the female equivalent of a shirt-and-tie might be. Don’t get the idea that the opera is some sort of Grand Ball — no need to get out the glass slippers. It’s just that people seem to lend you a bit more respect when you’re dressed nicely for the occasion.
4. When the lights dim, a deep voice will probably say, “Please turn off all cellphones and recording devices.” But what the invisible man won’t tell you is to PLEASE UNWRAP ALL YOUR CANDIES BEFORE THE SHOW, OR DON’T EAT THEM AT ALL!!! You won’t ever know how annoying it is to have someone slowly unwrapping their mint during the opera until it happens to you. Yes, it’s happened to me. And yes, I’ve had to turn around and tell the man to stop– I didn’t wish to embarrass him, but he certainly would have embarrassed himself more if he’d continued to unwrap that god-forsaken candy.
5. Please turn off all cellphones and recording devices. Well, recording devices are bad, but cellphones are MUCH WORSE. I can’t even imagine the horror of having my cellphone go off during a performance. I might just drop dead. Don’t let that happen to you. Do yourself a favor, and turn off the phone. Even if you’ve turned it off, just double check. I’m sure your girlfriend would love to hear your new ringtone at some other time. You get the point.
6. Don’t whisper, we can all hear you. Opera houses were made to allow sound to travel very easily. Don’t try to fool the laws of physics, because you won’t win.
7. In operas, it is surprisingly common for all the main characters to die in the end. This is not Hollywood. Don’t expect many happy endings. And another thing: it usually takes an extremely long time for someone to die. In La Traviata, Violetta dies of tuberculosis. But before she dies, she sings a full-blown aria (showing no signs of tuberculosis whatsoever). It’s breathtakingly beautiful, but undoubtedly ironic. Opera deaths are slow and painful, but spectacular all the same.
8. Many people are scared of going to the opera because they’ve adopted the strange belief that it is absurdly expensive. Fortunately, the opera is probably less expensive than you think. If you take a look at the Metropolitan Opera’s website, you’ll see that ticket prices can range anywhere from $24 to $168. Thirty bucks doesn’t seem too great a sacrifice in return for a seat at one of the greatest opera houses in the world. As for the more expensive seats– save those for a special date or a generous gift.
9. Read the concert program. It’s teeming with interesting information about the opera, the composer, the singers, and the conductor you are about to see. Knowing about an opera before you see it is quite valuable. Not only will you be expanding your knowledge of the musical realm, you will be gaining insight into the production that may double your enjoyment. After a few operas, you’ll start to recognize names.
10. Try to relax and enjoy! If it’s your first time at the opera, don’t act as if you’re trying to impress anybody. You’re not the one putting on the show. Just sit back and make believe you’re in a movie theater. A very large, elegant, quiet, clean movie theater, where cell phones never — ever — go off. Going to the opera is one of my favorite things to do. Nothing beats sitting in the Met, with a smile on my face, letting the music wash over me like waves on the beach.
Remember, it’s not over until the fat lady sings… but she won’t necessarily be fat.Tags: album, baroque, best classical music, cd, classical, classical music, classical music cds, classical music composer, classical music Mozart, classical music online, classical piano music, composers, concert, General, instrument, met opera, metropolitan opera, music, opera, opera house, opera singers, piano, reviews