It takes a bit of work to enjoy an opera, but doing so will change your life in great ways.
Opera going is not like movie going. Most movie-goers want to know just enough about the plot to be interested in seeing the film. They don’t want to know too much about how the story unfolds—or how it ends—because it spoils their fun. Surprise is what makes seeing a movie for the first time delightful.
With opera, quite the opposite is true: the more you know about the story, the more you enjoy the performance. If you go without knowing what’s going to happen beforehand, you will be too lost and frustrated to realize all the show has to offer.
And what does opera have to offer? Since its early years, opera has been regarded as the presentation of all the highest arts in one place. It features poetry, drama, acting, painting, sculpture, elaborate costumes, lavish upholstery, and these days, bleeding edge technology. Oh yes, and music, too!
Really, opera is nothing short of an artistic smorgasbord. So do your homework and don’t miss out on all the goodies.
Read the Synopses. Before attending the show, familiarize yourself with the complexities of the plot. Once informed, you can focus on the other elements of the show. Otherwise, your eyes will be fixed on the supertitles rather than the stage. If you already know what’s happening, you can actually listen to the music, admire the scenery, and bask in the holistic theater experience.
Get some historical background. While not essential to enjoying the opera on a basic level, you are guaranteed to appreciate the show much more with historical context. When does the opera take place? What is the historic backdrop of the plot? What was going on in the composer’s country of residence the year he wrote this opera? Verdi, Puccini, and Wagner were especially nationalistic composers. As such, their operas often have intriguing political undertones that were controversial at the time.
Listen to recordings. Figure out what famous songs you should listen for. Each opera has at least one classic aria or orchestra bit that made it so famous. Watch several versions on YouTube and you’ll be so thrilled when you hear it during the live performance. You’ll get swept up in the excitement of the opera experience. You’ll finally understand why those fanatics in the box seats scream “Brava!” at the end of each aria, clapping and nearly thrusting themselves off the balcony.
Learn something about this interpretation. If possible, read about the version you are going to see. What are the director’s dramatic choices? Is the show in a traditional or a modern setting? What was the most costly part about putting this show together? What technical difficulties did they have to get around? All these facts will sharpen your eyes and deepen your appreciation for what is being presented. They might even keep you from feelings of confusion or outrage at the interpretive decisions.
Watch another version. You really start to appreciate opera when you watch different versions of the same show. While exposing yourself to so many different interpretations of the same music and plots, you’ll even start to form your own opinions about how directors really “should” bring the story to life, and how each aria really “should” be sung. You’ll become an opera snob before you know it!
Seeing an opera is fun, but it’s even more enjoyable to bring friends to the show. I like to discuss the opera with my friends afterward. They often notice things I didn’t. When they share their thoughts with me, I really feel like I got my money’s worth. Once you convert your friends to this way of seeing an opera, you’ll all become fanatics in no time.