04 Mar 2015

5 Tips Before Going to Your First Opera

by Amanda Moreton

1. What is opera?
Opera has been around for hundreds of years but that doesn’t make it old news. Opera is an exciting display of incredible singing, costuming, scenery, and plots filled with life, death, love, tragedy, and so much more.  “Opera” is plural for the word “opus” which means work, and opera is the blending of multiple works: music, text, costumes, dance, staging, scenery, emotion.  Regardless of what your interest is, you can always find something that you can relate to. While this art form is full of tradition, it is easily accessible and meant to be enjoyed by all, regardless of operatic knowledge. And, here at Utah Opera, we’re lucky enough to have the Utah Symphony as our in-house orchestra!

Cosi fan tutte

2. Opera singers are athletes
When you’re watching these singers on stage, remember that they are performing a multiple hour production from memory. They have not just memorized the text but also the entire score (music), they are singing in a different language (with correct pronunciation), acting, while covered in makeup, wearing heavy and elaborate costumes, performing under hot lights, and singing over an entire orchestra without any form of amplification.


3. Forget what you think you know about opera and try it!
There are a lot of stereotypes about opera performances and opera audiences that do not match the experience at Utah Opera. Yes, there is a full orchestra and the story is primarily told through singing, but there is a full plot to follow, dynamic scenery and costumes, and often dancing – all of the performing arts at once! And while you may see an elegantly dressed couple enjoying an evening out at the opera, you’re also likely to see young hipsters, multi-generational families, and many other types of people at performances.

4. Come prepared
A little background before attending helps you enjoy the performance better. Don’t worry about spoiling the ending! Arrive a few minutes early and read the synopsis in the program and become familiar with the plot so that you’re not getting caught up in trying to read the supertitles (projected above the stage) instead of enjoying the whole opera experience.  Or, even better, arrive an hour early and enjoy the discussion that takes place in the Capitol Room in Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre before every performance. It’s also a good idea to listen to a few of the “greatest hits” from the opera (easily found on YouTube) so that you recognize some of the melodies and it feels familiar while you’re sitting in the audience. You might even surprise yourself with how much you already recognize!

Capitol Theatre

Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre

5. Opera is about the whole experience
The price and length of most operas can seem daunting but don’t let it deter you!  While most opera companies offer some expensive tickets they also offer very affordable tickets and often have rush or student discount prices available. (Students and people under 30 can buy a ticket to Utah Opera for only $10 in advance of the upcoming performance of Così fan tutte!) The whole evening should be enjoyable. Take advantage of the multiple intermissions that allow you to stretch your legs, grab a snack, read the program notes, use the restroom, check out the orchestra in the pit, and reflect on what you’ve just experienced in the opera. It’s about enjoying the whole experience; being in the opera house, people watching, being absorbed in the drama and music, wrapping yourself up in the excitement of the entire event.



If this is your first time at the opera, a Mozart opera is the perfect way to start. Utah Opera’s production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte runs March 14 – 22 at Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre.  This tale of flirtation and love combines silly disguises, mistaken identities, and sublime music to see if love can conquer, and resist, all. For Tickets and more information visit the Utah Opera webpage.

Click here for other helpful hints on when to arrive, how to dress and more.

Useful terms:

Libretto: the text of the opera (Italian for “little book”). The author of the text is called a librettist

Composer: the composer sets the text to music and writes the orchestra    accompaniment

Conductor: directs the musicians through the performance (usually with a baton)

Director: their job is to ensure the quality of the theater production and unify all the different aspects (lighting, staging, acting, costumes, etc.)

Capitol Theatre

Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre