Opera has gotten a bad rap over the past few decades. What used to be known as affordable entertainment for the masses (as in, during the 17th century) is now frequented mainly by rich old fogies and women who want to recreate the scene in Pretty Woman where hooker-turned-society-lady Julia Roberts is moved to tears over the eerie similarities between her life and the plot of La Traviata. Given such oddly specific parameters, it’s no wonder you haven’t felt a burning desire to fork over hundreds of your hard-earned dollars to hear portly divas break glasses with their stratospheric vocal ranges. There is, however, a good chance that someone (a wealthy grandparent or Gary Marshall-loving female acquaintance) will one day request your presence at an evening of opera and fanciness, so it benefits you to at least try to enjoy yourself (after all, you have inheritances and booty calls to consider). Here are a few ways to do just that.
Choose your first opera wisely
Like losing your virginity to an inconsiderate lover, beginning your operatic journey with a four-hour whopper will make you hate the art form quicker than you can say ‘should have stayed home and watched The Graduate’. Opera can be interesting, but you need to start small; the easiest way to remain a dilettante is to make the mistake of tackling too much before you’re ready (say, with Wagner’s Das Rheingold… you might be attracted to the Lord of the Rings-esque plot, but you’ll be dismayed at the Lord of the Rings-esque length).
To maximize your chances of actually enjoying your operatic experience, stick to the work of user-friendly composers like Mozart (you’ll recognize at least a few iconic songs from Le Nozzi de Figaro and Die Zauberflote, two of Wolfgang’s most famous endeavors), Puccini (La Boheme is the not-subtle-at-all inspiration for Rent, that overproduced 90’s Broadway behemoth that became a mediocre film in 200-something) and Verdi (Aida features both ear-pleasing tunes and eye-pleasing, scantily clad chorus girls). If an opera is advertised as being “beloved” or “oft-produced,” then you can safely assume it’s also one that’s stood the tests of both time and operaphobes such as yourself.
Bring some opera glasses and an open mind
Unless you’re one of the few I-bankers to still be employed (or you’re planning a night at the opera on your sugar mama’s dime), you probably won’t want to shell out top dollar to score center orchestra seats just to test the melismatic waters. You certainly don’t have to – theatres usually offer ticket specials throughout the season, and you can often find highly discounted tickets either on sites like Goldstar.com – but opera houses are grandiose by design, which means that the cheap seats are likely to be situated somewhere between the rafters and the attic. Do not despair. ‘Opera glasses’ (basically fancy binoculars) were created with you (and the many other people who don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for the privilege of bettering themselves through culture) in mind. Operas are nothing if not action-packed, so arriving with your binocs in tow guarantees that you’ll see the many (usually at least five) dramatic death scenes and Battles for Love and Honor that take place within the span of a single production. Imagine! It’s even better than HBO.
But remember: just as you must plan ahead to ensure you can use all five senses to enjoy your introduction to the operatic arts, you must also remind yourself to approach the complicated beast with a positive outlook. If you go in thinking you’re going to hate it, Negative Nelson, then you’ll probably leave having – you guessed it – hated the whole experience. Try to psych yourself up a little bit before you arrive. Positivity attracts positive things. (That’s also science.)
Read your program before the curtain goes up
Your opera glasses will help you maintain visual contact with the on-stage goings-on, but a solid grasp of the story itself will help you remain intellectually and emotionally invested in the characters’ antics, which is just as (if not more!) vital to your enjoyment of the whole thing. Lucky for you, no matter where you go to see your opera, the helpful folks in the office of opera-making will have created a detailed overview of the entire show for you. This is known as the synopsis. You will find it in your program. It is very important to read this synopsis before the production begins, lest you find yourself on the wrong end of the knowledge stick (which is obviously the ignorant, knowledge-free end). Don’t fret if you don’t get every single detail (opera synopses are usually lengthy), but if you can figure out the gist of the story before you have to focus on reading supertitles (side note: most operas are sung in foreign languages, with supertitles projected above the stage to translate for those who don’t speak 13 languages fluently), then at least you’ll have a clue of what’s happening during the show.
Enlist the wisdom of your smartest opera-loving friend
If you get a chance to attend an opera with someone who knows something (anything) about the art, seize it. Going to a performance accompanied by a self-proclaimed music nerd is ideal; not only will you learn a few things (music nerds can’t help but share whatever fun factoids they happen to know), but your musically-inclined friend’s enthusiasm will rub off on you, encouraging you both to submit fully to the musical orgy into which you’ve unwittingly stumbled. Opera buffs will also happily explain whatever might be confusing you during the show, so you don’t have to worry about being totally lost if your thick, non-nerd brain can’t manage to grasp the finer points of the performance.
Bonus: if this friend happens to be of the lady variety, then you can feel free to give yourself a hearty pat on the back, because your opera excursion is now a two-for-one deal. Women are drawn to guys who want to expand their realms of experience beyond basketball brackets and Fantasy drafts, which means that your date will look favorably upon your forays into opera fandom, thereby exponentially increasing your chances of ‘getting to know’ one another outside of the opera house.
Get your (moderate) drink on
“Everything’s better with booze”. It seems like someone smart said that, but if not, let’s get it in Bartleby’s quotations STAT (ideally with a helpful link.) Regardless, this sentiment is doubly true for opera-going. Now, we don’t mean that you should drink double – too much booze equals a much higher likelihood that two hours of foreign-language singing will lull you into an alcoholic coma – but we do encourage you to imbibe just a bit before the show. And during intermission. And during the second intermission, if there is one (by the by: sometimes there are two intermissions. Don’t be scared; this is to ensure that you have ample time to refuel at the bar during longer performances). Trust. Having a few drinks will help you relax, as well as allow you to tap into the elusive ‘drunkenthusiasm’ that tends to accompany 1.5-ish beverages. If you play it right, you might even leave with enough of an art buzz to inspire you to take on Das Rheingold.