Heading to Your First Opera? This is What You Can Expect

As far as musical performances go, operas can be pretty intimidating. Most of us have attended a musical at some point in our lives (even it it was a school play) and many have been to a symphony or concert of some sort. The opera, though, is a lot less commonly explored.

While operas are awe-inspiring performances, many people question whether or not they’ll enjoy the over-the-top qualities of this type of show. Everything about operas is big and bold and attending your first performance can be somewhat overwhelming. So, if you’re looking to attend an opera performance, here are some tips to getting the most out of your first opera experience.

Do Some Research

If you’re not sure where to initially dip your toes into the opera pool, then give your local opera house a call. Let them know that you’re curious about opera, but have never attended a show before and are wondering what a good starter performance would be. They should be able to advise you about the shows that would be most captivating to an opera novice. While you’re talking to them you may also want to ask about prices, discounts, the best times to attend, and possible tours for new attendees.

Learn the Lingo

If you want to feel even more comfortable at your first opera, take a bit of time ahead of the show to read up on some opera terms. All of the arts have special words that they use to describe important facets of the experience. Opera is no exception. For an example, an ‘aria’ is a solo that’s used to give you the inside scoop on the character’s current feelings and it takes place during a break in the main activity. There are many other terms like this that are used exclusively for opera.

Think About Your Personal Tastes

While you might not think of opera as having much in common with the kinds of shows you typically watch on TV or at the movies, the truth is that opera plots have many of the same themes. When choosing your first opera consider the genres you usually enjoy in other types of entertainment and work from there. For instance, if you love a good comedy, look for an opera with a funny plot line. If you’re into romance, explore some romantic operas.

Do a Little Prep Work

There’s so much going on during an operatic performance—the elaborate costumes, the elegant staging and, of course, the incredible singing, that you may get so caught up that you miss the actual plot line. Yes, there is a story to be told here too and knowing a bit about what you’re getting into ahead of time, can help you follow along, particularly if the opera you’re seeing is in a different language. The program handed out at the door will typically include a synopsis of the story line, so arriving a bot early will allow you to get up to speed before the show starts. Some opera houses will even have a discussion period ahead of the performance to further help attendees immerse themselves in the show. Of course, you can usually also find an opera synopsis online.

Applause is Welcome

You may be wondering if it’s appropriate to applaud at the opera. The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Operas usually elicit a lot of emotion and it’s completely understandable that people would want to express those feelings. Attendees often applaud or even shout a hearty ‘brava’ at the end of an overture, duet, aria or some other impressive part of the performance.

Get Fancy… or Not

For most of us, there aren’t many opportunity to get really dressed up anymore. The opera is somewhere you can go in your really upscale clothes. That said, if fancy isn’t your thing, at many opera houses you can definitely attend in your more casual clothes, just be sure not to take your attire too far in the casual direction. There was a time when people went to the opera in only their finest. These days, you’ll likely see a full range of clothing at the opera.


Going to the opera for the first time should be an exciting and fun experience. Don’t let all of the grandeur overwhelm you. Take a bit of time ahead of the show to prepare and you’re sure to have an experience to remember. You might even discover a new passion in life. 

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