So your girlfriend or boyfriend is an opera fan. Or you were switching stations on the radio and suddenly heard something you liked. Or you feel the need to get more "high culture" in your life. Whatever your reason for wanting to learn about opera, don't be nervous - it's less painful than you think. We're here to guide you past all of the screaming fat ladies and help you develop an ear for this time-tested and culturally-stimulating form of music.


Most people have preconceived notions about what an operatic experience entails. The following may sound familiar:

  1. "I won't go to the opera because it's only for rich people."
    This is not true. Yes, getting front-row seats at most top-notch opera houses would cost you a month's worth of groceries. (The best seats at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City are now over $200 each.) But if you're willing to sacrifice your fantastic view of the performers' feet, cheap seats (especially for students) are usually available.

  2. "I won't go to the opera because it puts me to sleep."
    Not unless you're bored by murder, intrigue, magic, switched identities, and star-crossed lovers, in which case there's little hope for you… OK, maybe we're pushing a little TOO hard, but it really is exciting if you give it a chance. It's just a matter of choosing the right opera-one with catchy music and a fast-moving storyline. Don't worry, we'll give you some recommendations later on that will keep you from nodding off and drooling all over those expensive velvet seats.

  3. "Opera is a dead art form, so it's not worth going."
    Composers today are experimenting with opera, trying to find new ways of keeping the form alive. And the fastest growing opera audience in the U.S. right now is people in their twenties and thirties, so the classics do keep their appeal.

  4. "I won't go to the opera because it's all sung in some foreign language and I can't understand it."
    It's true that most well-known operas were written in Europe and are frequently performed in their original Italian, German or French. Today many opera companies perform translations so that the audience can follow the action as it's going on. Lots of others are following the Metropolitan Opera's lead and installing subtitles above the stage or on the backs of seats. No matter what language the opera is in, though, if you follow our instructions you'll be prepared to enjoy yourself.
Now don't you feel silly? Opera is nothing that you thought. But before we rub our shallow victory in your face, you should realize that some of your preconceived notions are correct:
  1. Opera is long (compared to other forms of entertainment).
    Because all of the words in opera are sung, not spoken, it takes a longer time to move through the plot. You can expect to spend at least 2 ½ to 3 hours at the opera house, including at least one 15-minute intermission to stretch and wait in line for the bathroom. At least that's more relief than Spielberg gives us.

  2. Opera is basically a play set to music.
    Yup. Sure, there's dialogue, questions, arguments, and even moments of silence in opera; however, the addition of music makes everything more dramatic.

  3. Opera is classical music.
    Wait, didn't we just say that new opera was experimenting with different types of music? True, but most standard opera is what you'd consider classical music. There are some exceptions, like The Who's Tommy, a rock opera written in 1969, but you shouldn't expect to hear guitars and drums coming out of the orchestra pit. Don't be scared off by the words "classical music," though - watching people act on stage is a world apart from watching the ceiling during ninth grade music appreciation class.