A Beginner’s Guide to the Opera

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Manitoba Opera presents Werther, May 2 and 5.

I have been to dozens of productions of musicals. I have been to “operas” (like how I describe Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812 or Les Mis as an “opera” because there isn’t any talking in it) a handful of times. But I have only been to “the opera” (as in the “where’s the Met?”-Moonstruck-type opera) exactly one time: a year and a half ago, for Manitoba Opera’s production of The Marriage of Figaro.

I’m heading back (finally!) tomorrow, for MO’s production of Werther (which is pronounced “vair-tare,” by the way, don’t make an ass of yourself like I almost did). I’m here to tell you that the opera is not scary! But it does take some preparing. It’s not the kind of lean-back-in-your-chair entertainment you might get from a movie or a jukebox musical. It requires you to be engaged and involved – but that makes it even more fun.

Here are some tips for your first (or second!) time at the opera.

Watch adaptations first
RENT is based on La BohemeMiss Saigon is based on Madam Butterfly. The story is always easier to follow when you have some frame of reference in mind, and since some operas are so influential and classic, lots of other artists have taken inspiration from them. Check out if the opera you’re going to see has any adaptations that you can enjoy first. It’s also fun to see if you can guess which character in the original turned into which character in the adaptation.

Read up
In the program of the opera, there’ll be a synopsis of the whole show. Read it. Characters usually introduce themselves when they come on stage, but it won’t necessarily happen. Even if you don’t want to “ruin it” for yourself, it’s better to know what’s going to happen, because you may not be able to follow along, especially if the show is in another language (which it usually is).

Follow the opera company on social media
Last summer, I won a free pair of opera glasses from Manitoba Opera for correctly identifying what a “libretto” is. They have contests and promos all the time, so connect with them on Twitter or Facebook to make the most of your experience (and your wallet!).

Stay hydrated
This isn’t some 90-minute one-act-and-done show. I’m not going to lie to you – operas are long. Three or four hours. Two intermissions. Get some water at concession beforehand and make sure you eat dinner before you come. It’s worth it, but you won’t be able to enjoy the show if you’re hungry!

Follow me on Twitter as I live-tweet Manitoba Opera’s Werther tomorrow, May 2, starting at 7 pm!