Sydney Opera House

Opera for Beginners

Opera for Beginners - La boheme

We love opera. We want you to be swept away by the experience. If you are new to the genre, these tips about where to start will help make your first opera experience truly unforgettable.

Choosing your first opera

There’s always a great selection of operas on for beginners to choose from, and there’s no ‘right way’ to get started.

We suggest looking for a familiar story, or a composer whose music you might recognise – even if it’s only one aria or duet.

Each opera has a production page on this website where you can get an overview of the story, see photos from the set and hear some of the music. 

There’s also our YouTube channel where you can get a sneak peak of what you’re going to see and the Opera Australia blog where directors, singers and musicians share their behind-the-scenes insights on creating a world-class opera.

Getting started in 2013

Can't wait to get started? Here are some suggestions for great first-time operas.

Soaringly romantic and magnificently dramatic, Verdi's Aida encapsulates much of what we think of when we hear the word 'opera'. Directed by celebrated ballet choreographer Graeme Murphy, this production is grand opera at its finest.


Giacomo Puccini's gorgeous music tells a story of love, jealousy and sacrifice in ToscaJohn Bell, Artistic Director of the Bell Shakespeare Company, has directed a monumental new staging that sets the action in Mussolini's Italy in the 1940s.


Up for a laugh? There can be few comic operas as pleasing to the eye and to the ear as Donizetti's bubbly Don Pasquale.



La Traviata tells the heart-breaking story of the beautiful yet vulnerable courtesan Violetta. Starring the radiant Emma Matthews in this central role, you'll fall in love with opera through the eyes of this tragic heroine.


Check the length

You probably don’t want to be sitting through six hours of Wagner on your first visit – so check the length of the show. Most operas are between two and three hours, with at least one interval, but some are even shorter. At interval when you hear the bells ringing, it’s time to return to your seats.  

If its sung in another language how will I know what's going on?

Let the surtitles tell the story! All non-english performances are presented with surtitles – instant English translations projected on a screen above the stage. But don’t worry if you can’t follow every word as the action will convey a lot of the story.  If you wear glasses don’t forget to bring them along!

Opera for Beginners - La traviata

But I don’t have anything to wear!

If you don’t know what to wear, the answer is: dress comfortably. These days black tie and evening dresses are certainly not compulsory opera attire, although it can be fun to ‘frock-up’ occasionally.

Attend an Opera Talk and hear the stories behind the operas.

Members of Opera Australia’s artistic team share their insights into each opera 45 minutes before selected Opera Australia performances in the Northern Foyer of the Joan Sutherland Theatre. These informal, informative talks help you get the most out of your opera experience. See upcoming dates and starting times of the talks for this year below. 

La Traviata
Tuesday 27 August, 6.45pm
Thursday 29 August, 6.45pm

Albert Herring
Wednesday 21 August, 6.45pm

Call Opera Australia

If you’re still unsure, call Opera Australia on (02) 9318 8200 or (03) 9685 3700 and have a chat to our experienced Customer Services team about which opera would best suit you, because it’s really important when experiencing opera for the first time to choose the right one.


A valid ticket is required to access Opera Australia performances. Please have your ticket with you at all times as you may be asked to present it for inspection. To minimise disturbances, late arrivals may be ‘locked out’ until interval. Evening performances begin at 7.30pm and matinees at 1pm – please make sure you arrive on time.

Opera for Beginners - NYE GalaApplause 

Opera audiences are famous for their passionate involvement in the performance. Don’t be alarmed if the people around you start stomping their feet at the end of the performance, this is an opera tradition to show your enjoyment and appreciation, feel free to join in if you like. All applause will be gratefully received, although it is polite to wait until the singing and music has stopped. 


We've put together some useful information for planning your visit to the Sydney Opera House or the Arts Centre Melbourne. Just click on the venue you'll be attending the opera at.