How to survive an opera

This is the first of an ongoing series of posts where I will explain what to expect when attending a live concert.  Music is best experienced firsthand, and depending on the genre, what’s expected for the concert-goer can be quite varied. Here are my thoughts on attending an Opera in Vancouver.

Reuters/Gustau Nacarino
Reuters/Gustau Nacarino
  • What is an opera?

An opera is an art form combining solo and choral singing, acting, dancing, and playing musical instruments against a staged theatre backdrop.  The entire opera may be sung (ex. number opera), or have some speaking (ex. Singspiel ). The words of an opera is  the libretto. There may be elaborate or simple costumes and set design. The singers are accompanied by an orchestra, or a group of musicians.

  • What is the venue?

Operas usually take place in opera houses, or in a theatre setting, ranging from small theatres for 100 (such as Pyatt Hall), to larger ones, (such as the Queen Elizabeth Theatre) which seats over 2,900.

Photo: MichaelThoeny
  • What does an opera sound like?

There are many different types of operas, depending on the origin of the composer, when it was composed, and the audience.  German, English, French, Italian, Russian, operas have their own unique aspects, and early operas are very different from more modern/contemporary operas.

  • Where can I see an opera?

The biggest and most well-known opera company in BC is the Vancouver Opera. They usually perform 4-5 operas per season, and offer perks such as GET  O.U.T. program, where anyone under 35 years old can buy tickets for only $35! (There are a limited number of tickets reserved for those customers, and you must present valid ID when picking up the tickets). Performances take place at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

If you prefer a more Asian flavor, check out the Vancouver Chinese Opera , one of the major forms of Chinese opera. They perform two major productions a year.  Their highly elaborate costumes and makeup, and use of Chinese instruments (not commonly used in Western music) is certainly something that must be experienced. This non-profit society also offers singing lessons for adults and children.

Female Chinese Opera Singer

The Vancouver Concert Opera society is smaller compared to the Vancouver Opera, but tickets are considerably cheaper (around $40 per person) and take place in a smaller venue (usually Pyatt Hall at the VSO School of Music in downtown Vancouver, or the First United Church in White Rock, Surrey.

For more operatic societies in the Pacific .Southwest/Northwest, check out the listing here.

  • What is the average age of a concert-goer?

Late 50’s-early 60’s, says the Met Opera.  But opera societies are trying to woo younger audiences by offering discounts for families and those under 35 years old.

  • What is the average cost of going on an opera?

It can be quite expensive. ranging from $190-35, depending on the opera society, and where you are sitting.

  • What to wear to an opera?

Some people get very dressed up for this, but semi-formal/Sunday best is fine.  Generally no jeans, sloppy dressing.

  • Any more tips?

If you’ve never seen an opera before, go to these, that feature beautiful music and plots that are exciting and easier to follow:

-Aida by Verdi

-The Magic Flute by Mozart

-The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart

-Madam Butterfly by Puccini

-Carmen by Bizet

It is best to do some homework before attending an opera to get the best out of your experience.  Look up some facts on the history, composer, and plot of the opera, as well as any stand-outs to look for, such as popular arias (a beautifully sung melodic solo/duet).  The whole POINT of going to an opera is not like going to a movie, where you want to be surprised by the plot.  Instead, it is to listen and enjoy the singing, music and acting, and to see how the opera has been adapted and performed. You don’t have be an opera expert to attend an opera, and you may be pleasantly surprised to see not everyone around you is an opera expert either!

“It’s not over until the fat lady sings”

This expression means one should not presume the final outcome until the end.  This phrase refers to the buxom character, Brünnhilde in Richard Wagner’s epic opera cycle “The Ring of the Nibelung”. where she sings an extended aria at the end of the opera.

I end with my favourite duet from an opera :Delibe’s Flower Duet from Lakme.  Love her expression at 1:07 – she’s so excited to start the duet!

Published by hannahannika

Piano Teacher

2 thoughts on “How to survive an opera

  1. This is a great post Hannah! I didn’t know there are discounts for being under 35 – maybe I should go experience one while I’m still “young”.

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