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Two women, a mother and a daughter, watch the opera

The Ultimate Guide to Going to the Opera

Opera isn’t meant to be difficult. You can waltz up to the theatre knowing nothing about the opera, the performers or the etiquette and have a ball. But if you like to have a little “local” knowledge, we’ve put together this guide.

BEFORE THE OPERA

How to choose an opera...

It depends what you like! Think about what kind of films you like to see, or books you like to read. Operas fit loosely into three genres:

  1. Comedy
  2. Tragedy – may contain a little bit of (c)
  3. Epic – may contain a little bit of (b)

Every opera at Opera Australia will have beautifully detailed costumes and sets. The look of each opera depends on the set and costume designers, and when it is set in history. On each event page, we provide lots of information and images to help you see what a production looks like.

Even if you’ve never been to the opera, you’ll know many opera tunes from commercials and films. Where possible, we'll point to audio clips so that you can listen to the big hit and have an idea what the music sounds like.

You can use any number of criteria to decide what to see – who is starring, how long the performance is, what language it is sung in, what the costumes look like, what music you’ve heard, or simply whatever appeals to you at the time.

You can also just choose an opera using our calendar, and you’re just as likely to enjoy it! If you call the box office, the staff will be able to make specific recommendations.

What do I wear?

Most of us aren’t regulars on the ball circuit and don’t have a tuxedo or a fur coat stashed away to pull out for the opera. Trust us – that doesn’t matter.

It’s a whole lot of fun to get dressed up and be glamorous for a night at the opera – where else can you wear your grandmother’s pearls or break out your wedding suit?

But it’s not mandatory. Look around the theatre and you’ll see women in cocktail dresses, men in chinos, corporates in business suits, families in their Sunday best and tourists in whatever-they-were-wearing-that-day.

There’s no compulsory dress code – wear what you’ll feel comfortable in. It can get cold in the theatre, so consider an extra layer. And if you're seeing a show on an outdoor stage – bring warm and waterproof clothing!

Some tips about the theatre

  • Arrive early so you’re not rushing – the ushers will close the doors at show time and may not allow latecomers in until a suitable gap in the performance
  • Eat something before the show – operas can be quite long!
  • You can pre-order drinks for interval, so you don’t have to queue at the bar. It doesn’t cost any extra, and you’ll feel like a celebrity
  • Stop for a drink after the opera and you’ll avoid queues out of the carpark

At the opera

How will I know what’s going on?

Many operas are performed in other languages – most often Italian or French. There are surtitle screens above the stage that translate the words – just like subtitles in a film (we call them surtitles because they are above, not below (sub) the stage). The music also conveys a lot of the action. Is it stormy? The orchestra will let you know with lots of dramatic music. Sad? The music will make you feel that way.

We also provide lots of background to help you understand the opera, so take a look at the page for the opera that you're seeing.

Your one-stop shop is the cheat sheet, which includes a bit about the composer, a bit about the production, a guide to the characters, some things to listen out for in the music and a bit of the history behind the opera. It’s quick and easy to read. It also has a short description of the plot, with a link to a full synopsis is you don’t mind spoilers.

You can also read or watch interviews with the director or designer or performers, behind-the-scenes photographs, costume drawings or set models and production pictures, where available.

Switch off your electronic devices.

Check your phone, and your tablet, and anything else that might go beep or ring or buzz: make sure they are all off. A glowing screen can also be distracting to those around you so don't check your phone during the performance.

Photography, sound recording or any kind of filming is not permitted during the performance but you're welcome to take photos before and after the performance and at interval.


AFTER THE OPERA

Stamping, clapping, booing, tomato-throwing…

You’re going to see some of the world’s top performers use their voices in ways most mere mortals can only dream of. They’re projecting those notes to the back of a massive theatre without any amplification. They’re jumping and trilling and whispering and yelling and hitting precisely the right notes and right rhythms every time. That takes amazing control and years of training - opera singers are like athletes! Here’s how to show your appreciation:

 

Bravo: shout “bravo” like a boss to celebrate a male performer

Brava: shout “brava” if you want to congratulate a female performer

Bravi: If you’re not sure, or just think everyone’s done a fantastic job, shout “bravi”. It’s a safe bet if you’re not up on your Italian endings. (If you are, you’ll know it’s a masculine plural, but it can be used for a mixed crowd).

Clap with abandon. Stamp your feet too – it’s a fun tradition. Audiences will sometimes burst out into applause after a particularly famous aria if there’s a gap in the music – just wait for someone else to start clapping and you can’t go wrong.

When you hear applause at the beginning of the opera or after interval, but can’t see anything on stage, it’s probably that the conductor is walking into the orchestra pit. That’s a lovely way to show appreciation for the maestro and the orchestra, who are hidden away under the stage.

Sometimes people applaud when the curtain rises if the set is particularly impressive.

Don’t be alarmed if you hear the audience boo loudly when the baddie comes out for his bow. It’s usually high praise – for a job well done.

Tomato-throwing might still be ok in Italian theatres, but we don’t do it here.

How will I remember all this?

We email you a guide to the opera a few days before the performance. It includes important information like what time the opera begins, how long it runs and when the intervals are.

It also has a bit of information about the opera itself and a guide to where to eat and park.

The staff at the theatres are there to help – if you have any questions, just ask.

You can contact our box office by phone on 02 9318 8200 or email us at customerservice@opera.org.au.