Recently Paris Hilton offended the Viennese by yawning during the Austrian even of the year--the Viennese Opera Ball, attended by such musical luminaries as Anna Netrebko (featured at the left, pic courtesy of Universal ).
As an MA student in classical voice as well as an aspiring opera singer myself, I thought it might be fun to share some guidelines about going to the opera. The next time you find yourself in the opera house, you can carry yourself with grace and aplomb!
Don't take a dictionary Good news--now you can enjoy an opera without wondering what's going on. Nearly all houses have subtitles--a screen is placed above the stage that translates every word into English (or whatever language is primarily spoken in the area).
Give away the ending. Do yourself and your companions a favor--do some research about the opera before you go. Find out what it's about, the historical context, and yes--find out the ending. Trust me, it's much easier if you have this information beforehand. Unlike TV and movies, which specialize in giving information without any context, opera is best appreciated when you understand the historical and dramatic significance of what is occurring. Educate yourself. You won't regret it. The more you know, the more you'll enjoy the experience.
Don't hold the applause Unlike the symphony or recital hall, it is appropriate to applaud after a singer completes an aria (a song) or a particularly difficult passage. If there's a short pause, and you were moved by the performance, you can clap. If you don't know what to do, follow the lead of those around you. The great thing about opera is that there are bound to be people out there who are veterans and know exactly what to do!
"Bravo!" is for boys! There are several forms of the Italian word "Bravo!", which is a widely used expression of approval. If you're cheering for the leading lady, say: "Brava!" If you're cheering for a group, it's "Bravi!"
Floor length gowns not required Gone are the days of dressing to the nines. Dressing up is always nice (especially since good seats are over $100 these days). Wear something that is comfortable--you'll be sitting still in a crowded auditorium for over 3 hours in most cases! [Be aware, however, that opera is all about luxury and decadence. You're going to watch some amazingly beautiful and glamorous people sing amazingly well. I personally am never without a silk scarf and pearls, or at least some dramatic earrings. But it's your call.]
Standing ovations Remember that these singers practice for hours upon hours every day to do their jobs well. This is their livelihood. If you're moved by what they're doing, show them by giving them a standing ovation at the end of the act. You don't have to wait for others to do this. They appreciate it.
All these pictures are of the beautiful Russian star Anna Netrebko. If you're looking to introduce yourself to opera, I highly recommend her album Sempre Libera, available on iTunes. As my voice teacher says, she is the real thing.