It can be tough to find a fellow opera fan! When I invite friends to join me at the Met, they usually turn down the invitation, saying that they don't understand opera, or that it's a highfalutin' art form that feels irrelevant. To that, I could offer many recommendations for contemporary operas, or invigorating re-interpretations of classics (Isango Esemble's The Magic Flute is a shining example of just that!). But there are also a number of ways to make traditional opera feel fun, exciting and accessible.
If you and your family will be attending your first opera at the New Vic next month, but are feeling trepidatious about your ten-year-old's reaction to Papageno, read my Ten Commandments for Watching Opera below. A little preparation will help you to get the most out of your experience!
Remember that you might already be a fan
Opera pops up everywhere—from Skittles commercials to internet memes, so there's really no reason to feel intimidated!
Honor the music
The great part about opera is that the music says it all! Even if the set design, costuming or lighting is gorgeous, opera is first and foremost about the music, and painstakingly composed works communicate emotions and story through music alone (the rest is just extra!). As The New York Times put it, "in opera, music is the driving force; in musical theater, words come first."
Thou shalt not worry about hearing every word
Many operas are in foreign languages, but even those sung in your native tongue can be tough to understand. Opera singers do their best when it comes to diction, but part of opera singing technique requires singers to modify spoken pronunciation in order to sound their best (especially on the high notes). Let the music tell the story if you're feeling lost.
Thou shalt not listen to stereotypes
"It ain't over til the fat lady sings." Ugh... When you become a fan, you'll realize that opera is way more than some stereotypes make it out to be.
Thou shalt get to know the classics
As an opera beginner, your best plan for getting to know the art form is to start with the classics. Find a playlist below that I curated, and have a listen. You'll hear favorite songs, many of which I'll bet you've heard before!
Thou shalt have an opinion
Sometimes there's the misconception that just because something is lauded as a "classic," you have to like it. Listen to or go see a few operas and decide what you like—a crisp Mozart tune is very different from a undulating Puccini score.
Thou shalt know the singers
It's hard to go wrong when seeing any trained, professional opera singer perform live. But hardcore opera buffs will go to shows just to hear certain singers. Here are a few names to get you started: Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Maria Callas, Renee Fleming, Anna Netrebko.
Thou shalt know the vocabulary
Here's a list of terms that will help you on your first trip to the opera (click to enlarge).
Thou shalt know the composers
Most of the famous composers that you can name probably wrote an opera, but there were a few that really perfected the medium. While Beethoven wrote one opera, symphonies were more his specialty. Who are considered the best opera composers, then? Mozart, Wagner, Verdi, Rossini, and Puccini are recognized as a few of the greats.
Thou shalt avoid snobbery
When you've become an opera fan, make sure you spread the love, and help people understand that opera isn't high-brow and stuffy! There's nothing wrong with getting your Wagner knowledge from the Looney Tunes episode when Elmer Fudd sings "kill the wabbit" to the tune of "Die Walkure."