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Ultimate Guide for Opera Beginners



Certainly, let's delve into the world of total art. Welcome to our guide to the fascinating and mesmerizing world of opera! If you are disappointed by the fact that this is about opera because you have thought of opera as a highbrow culture where dressing up in fancy clothes and having wine afterward is required, I would like to first say that this is a bias! Opera is not something you should be afraid of; it's simply a combination of music, drama, and acting. Here's the ultimate guide to help you learn how to enjoy it step by step.

What is Opera? Comparison with Musical

Before we start, it is important to know what opera is. Opera, just like a musical, is a form of art that combines music, theater, drama, and acting. It has a storyline, with singers playing the roles of characters, and visual arts that represent the story! Then, what is the difference between opera and a musical? If they have such similarities, can we even acknowledge the differences? The answer is yes! Even though they share similarities like involving music, singing, and acting, there are differences that distinguish opera from a musical. First, while opera prioritizes music over acting, a musical prioritizes acting. That said, most operas use recitative, which is a speech-like singing when characters are in dialogue. Even when characters speak to the audience or other characters, they don’t really speak normally; they sing! That is the biggest difference between a musical and opera.

Moreover, opera has a longer history than a musical. Starting from the 17th century, it has a long history with composers working to revitalize the essence of Ancient Greek characteristics. Claudio Monteverdi, an Italian composer, is considered to be the first one who created this art form. During the Baroque era when Monteverdi lived, it had rich musical compositions with a formal structure and polyrhythms. Opera in the Classical era was widely composed by famous composers such as Mozart, widening the types of opera from serious ones to funny and enjoyable ones. Coming to the Romantic period, the most well-known operas were made, such as Bizet’s Carmen and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

Which One to Choose?

Let’s just not pick Wagner in the first place if you are a beginner. There is no personal hatred against him, but his operas are too long for beginners to start with! Béla Bartók is another one that you want to avoid. Again, no personal hatred, but his operas are so difficult to understand! Here is to say, just choose simple and not too long operas. It’d be perfect if you choose operas from the Classical era to the Romantic era. Here are some suggestions of operas that you might like as a beginner.

While you want to watch an opera that was composed by the biggest composer, consider this first. Unlike other operas at the time, The Marriage of Figaro is good to start with because it is a comic opera. Composed in the classical era, this opera includes one of the most famous arias in opera history. Figaro’s “Here’s an end to your life as a rover” and Cherubino’s serenade “Tell me what love is” are.

14. Even though Mozart is the greatest composer ever in history, the history of opera is deeply rooted in Italy. Puccini, an Italian composer famous for opera, will never disappoint you in terms of the beauty of the music. Bel canto, a style of Italian opera in the Romantic period, shines in his opera. There are many operas that Puccini led to succeed. Madama Butterfly is the greatest one to enjoy.

It is not fair to introduce Bizet when it comes to an opera. Composed by French composer Bizet, Carmen might be the most successful opera in the world, giving insights into many films and performances. You might be able to find out that the musical style is somewhat different from the previous operas because it involves bold and exotic music.

What You Need to Know Before Attending Opera

You are strongly encouraged to do background research on opera before you go to see it. Most famous operas are from European countries. That being said, it is not going to be performed in English! Although there will be subtitles for you, it would make it easier for you to understand what is going on during the opera if you know the plot in advance. I am not saying that you should find the libretto entirely, but a little bit of synopses you could find on Wikipedia would be a hack! Characters’ names, plot, and famous arias are the keys that you might want to know, which play a crucial role in understanding the opera.

Many of you would be concerned about the dress code in the opera house. While there is no specific dress code for attending the opera, it is safe for you to wear formal attire. For example, it is perfectly fine if you want to dress up nicely, such as with a suit or formal dress. Is this too much? Business casual also works perfectly with the opera. Just avoid flip-flops, jeans with t-shirts, and sneakers. However, it depends on the venue and performance. Some operas may have strict preferences for you to wear a black tuxedo, while others may not. Just check before you buy tickets!

There are important terms that are useful for you to understand:

*Aria: a set-piece song for a solo singer

*Bel canto: In English, it means "beautiful singing," a style of Italian opera

*Leitmotif: A short musical phrase that represents a specific character or idea

*Libretto: "Little book," the words of an opera

*Soprano: the highest singing voice of female singers

*Mezzo-soprano (meaning ‘half-soprano’): the voice range between the soprano and the contralto of female singers.

*Contralto: the lowest female voice,

*Countertenor: the highest-pitched male voice

*Tenor: the second highest male voice

*Baritone: range of voice between the tenor and the bass.

*Bass: the lowest vocal range


Even if you were afraid of attending opera performances, it would give you a good experience. Opera will open up a new horizon of musical experience, so why don’t you just give yourself a fascinating taste of it?

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