10 things you should know before attending the opera

If you've never been to the opera before, there are a few things you should know before the curtain goes up. But don't fret, these insider tips from former soprano Briana Blythe are guaranteed to keep the tragedy up on the stage and out of your evening. 


1. Get Great Last-Minute Tickets for Great Prices

If you’re looking for the best prices, last-minute tickets can save you a bundle. Many opera houses release severely discounted prices the day of the performance itself. Seattle Opera has standing room available in the back of the orchestra section for just $15. Even the Met offers rush tickets for $25. Sure, they might not be ideal seats (or even a seat at all), but it's a great price see some seriously pro entertainment.


2. Splurge on Prime Seats

On the other hand, if you're hunting for the best seats in the house, you'll want to plan ahead. Areas with a clear view of the action onstage are considered prime seats, so sitting in the center orchestra (main level), or the mezzanine (first tier balcony) is best. Tickets in in the orchestra or mezzanine will set you back $100-$300, but if you’re in the market for an amazing view with acoustics to match, it’s the only way to go. Order online so you can check out the seating chart yourself, or give the box office a call for assistance.


3. Use the Will Call Window

Like any theater performance, you can have paper tickets held for you at the will call window rather than having them mailed to your home address. While the box office will usually reprint tickets if you forget them at home, waiting in line - especially if you’re running late - can put a wrench in an otherwise enjoyable evening. Play it safe. Say no to snail-mail. Leave your tickets at will call. Or take advantage of any e-ticket options the opera house may offer.


4. Get Fancy

Gone are the days of fancy ball gowns and tuxedos. With opera desperately trying to stay relevant, it's all about accessibility. But while that means you can attend La Traviata in your favorite jeans, that doesn’t mean you should. On the contrary, a well-dressed patron is always appreciated. The effort you put into your appearance will not go unnoticed. Plus, you never know who you’ll get to chatting with at intermission.


5. Eat Beforehand

A 7pm showing of Le Nozze is bound to leave your tummy rumbling in the middle of Act II, so save yourself (and your date) from a serious case of the hangries and grab a bite before the show. Most opera houses will provide drinks and refreshments for sale at intermission, but unless you have a particular taste for $15 cookies, it’s worth planning ahead. Eating afterward is great, too, but reservations are advised, as you may have to compete with the rest of the opera house for a table at nearby eateries.


6. Read the Synopsis

Far from your friend letting it slip that Snape kills Dumbledore, reading the synopsis. or summary of the opera, is the best kind of spoiler. In fact, it can greatly enhance your enjoyment of the performance. Most operas make references to legend, mythology, and other complicated entanglements. Combined with the intricate sets, staging, music, and translated dialogue, it's a lot to absorb at once. Opera houses know the sensory overload is real, so you’ll always find a few pages of your program dedicated to a the Reader’s Digest version of the opera you’re about to see. 


7. Look UP for Subtitles

These days, operas are mostly performed in their original languages, meaning the language in which the libretto, or script, was first written. But don't let a foreign language put you off. You can read the supertitles! Supertitles are like closed captioning for a movie, except at the opera, they’re usually displayed on a large rectangular screen located just above the stage.


8. Don't Sing Along

You might know some Wagnerian leitmotifs of from your childhood days watching Bugs Bunny cartoons, but for the love of all things holy, do not sing along to the Ride of the Valkyries when it starts up. Unlike rock concerts, opera performances are for watching and listening - unless expressly asked to do otherwise. If you’re bursting to hum along, though, take heart! You'd be a welcome addition to any opera sing-along.


9. Clap - and Shout - in the Right Places

Did you know the audience is just as important to a successful opera performance as the musicians? They are! Take it from a former opera singer. There's nothing worse than a "dead" audience. If you loved the performance, show your appreciation for the performance by clapping, and yes, shouting! Just be sure to do it in the right places.


It's customary to clap at the completion of an act, or after a particularly famous aria. If you're wondering when that is, acts traditionally finish when the curtain goes down. The ends of arias can be more tricky to suss out, though, so if you're in any doubt, tune in to your fellow audience members. The frequent patrons will know when to clap. After a particularly moving aria, you'll may also hear them bellow "brava!" or "bravo!" Feel free to join in. You can even participate in a standing ovation if you are really blown away by the performance.


10. Support the Art Form

Opera is struggling to stay relevant - and funded. So if you love it, help keep it alive. You don’t have to donate in lump sums (though they are appreciated, and tax deductible). Instead, you can buy season tickets, purchase souvenirs in the gift shop, or help organize educational outreach performances fueled by the company’s young artist or resident artist program. It’s also worth supporting The Met Opera in HD, which brings opera to movie theaters across the nation. If you’re wondering how you can contribute, contact your local opera company for more information.


Briana Blythe is a copywriter and former operatic soprano. Learn more about her here, or connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin.

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