Seeing an opera for the first time

The reaction of those who see an opera for the first time is very spectacular. They either love it or hate it.

Some advice on how to approach what some consider the most complex and magical art in existence.

1. Relax and enjoy

This is the most important rule. An opera is essentially a play in which the actors sing accompanied by an orchestra. In other words: a story, with a plot and some characters, like a novel, a movie or a TV series.

That you have to be an expert to enjoy opera is one of the great myths. This is not true. The more you know, the more deeply you can appreciate the work and every detail. But the plot of many operas is easy to follow: love in all its forms, social or political criticism, fantasy… or all at once.

Knowing the opera can help you understand it better and not get lost. There are many ways to prepare yourself. The simplest ones are reading basic information such as the synopsis of each act, comments on the composer and the society he was addressing. Theater programmes or magazines usually offer this type of information, which is also available on many websites.

2. Better in a theater

Opera is theater. It is meant to be seen live. Moreover, it is one of the few musical shows that does not use microphones, so the architecture and acoustics of the theaters are decisive. Cinema or television have their own rules. They are different.

Moreover, opera is a social act and you live with other people. Tears for love tragedies, laughter from comic moments (or applause and booing) cement a collective experience.

If you can’t go to a function, there are more options. European theaters have launched an online platform for viewing live and on-demand operas for six months after their first broadcast. In addition, more and more cinemas are showing operas in their theaters. In large cities, companies offering classical productions at reduced prices have appeared in recent years, and there are obviously many good titles on DVD.

3. Choose the title carefully

There is never a second chance for a good first impression. The opera seasons of most theaters are varied and include great classics, exotic works and new productions. It is essential to get off to a good start, as theaters are full of empty seats due to the frustration of many beginners.

It is advisable to start with a title that interests you particularly (because of the theme, the historical moment, the staging) or, to go for a fixed shot, with a classic of proven effectiveness throughout history.

4. The language of opera

The opera was born in Italy. In fact, the word means work in that language. Jacopo Peri is considered the father of the genre for his works Daphne and Eurydice, composed at the end of 1600. Since then, it has become popular and has crossed borders. Today there are operas in any language, although the most common are Italian, German and French.

To follow the performances, in theaters there are subtitles or surtitles, placed on large screens or in the back of the seats. They usually include the translation of the text being sung into the local language and into some other language (such as English), for foreign audiences.

5. Clap (or whistle) when you play

European theater audiences are traditionally demanding. It will be more or less hot depending on the performance or even the type of subscription, but there are certain moments when the usual thing is to applaud.

The first is the appearance of the conductor, who is the main musical director of the work. Unless there is some special circumstance (he is very famous, it is his last performance), it is a courtesy and even dispassionate applause. After all, the music has not yet begun. In operas with several acts and a pause (most of them), the conductor is applauded again when he comes out again. There is also some evaluation there. If the music is good, the applause is usually more generous.

You can also applaud after an exceptional aria or duet. Here the decision is spontaneous and collective among the spectators of the performance. Usually the interpretation of the aria is more influential than the famous one. In other words: it is a prize for an extraordinary performance. Depending on the theater and the type of audience, these applauses will be more or less frequent.

At the end of each act, especially if there is a pause, there is applause. At the end of the performance, this applause can last for many minutes. First the minor characters come out and then the main characters. Those who like them the most are applauded the most. At the end, the conductor of the orchestra comes out and, if it is a premiere, the stage manager.