10 Tips For Attending Your First Opera

Thinking of going to the opera this year but don’t know what to watch? Why not try La Boheme at ENO? If you’ve never been before, check out our top tips to ensure your first visit to the opera goes smoothly.


Most regular people don’t attend ballet or opera performances. They few that do do it once in a while. You are therefore not alone if you feel that the whole issue is a bit daunting. The truth is that it can invoke a sense of feeling intimidated.


That said, feeling that way shouldn’t stop you from enjoying a ballet or opera performance. With these simple tips you can immerse yourself in this world and become one of ‘them’. Not to mention the fact that you will definitely turn the heads of your family members and friends.

You will definitely score high social points if you are always dropping anecdotes about something you witnessed at the opera being in close relation to something that’s happening at the moment.

  1. First things first, know what to expect.

The reason why ballets and operas are classified as classic performances and events is because they can be done over and over and still sound new and exciting.

For this reason, you should always try and familiarize yourself with ballet or opera music. You can get this information from a relevant website or company office. Ballet and opera companies are always excited to welcome newbies to their performances more so because the attendees do tend to be those who have advanced in age.

You don’t have to settle for just any performance. The good news is that you have the choice. A good example is choosing a ballet that is created by a well-known songwriter or selecting one that follows a genre of music that you like.

A huge part of enjoying a ballet or opera performance relies heavily on you enjoying the music as well.

Another thing that you should always expect is a slight sense of depression when it comes to operas. Most of them will end in the demise of one or two of the main characters. Sometimes all of them! If you consider yourself an avid fan of Quentin Tarantino movies and can handle all the grimness chances are high that you would enjoy performances by Carmen or Puccini.

Examples of more light hearted opera performances include The Marriage of Figaro, The Elixir of Love and Cosi Fan Tutte.

The complexity of an opera performance often causes one to feel intimidated. This does not have to be you because now you don’t have to struggle to understand what is happening every stage of the performance. Modern day opera shows have OpTrans that show the English words and can be seen above the stage where the performance is going on. Some more good news is that you will always be given a copy of the synopsis and this means you know the plot of the story the whole time.

If you still aren’t sure which is the better choice between an opera and a ballet, go for the ballet. Ballet dancers always dress in tight hugging costumes and have beautifully sculpted bodies. That should give you something to look out during the entire performance.

  1. Know who to take with you as company

You can take anyone whose company you enjoy so to speak. There are no rules really as to whom you can take with you to an opera or ballet performance. It’s the ideal cultural event to take your better half, date or platonic friend of either sex. You can also attend it alone.

As a general rule you should steer clear of bringing young kids who can’t stay in their seat and who cannot really grasp the notion that the person on stage did not really die. Other examples of people you should not invite as company are those that fall asleep and snore really loud, people who will feel the innate need to break out and sing or dance along with the cast performance, those who cannot go one second before peeking onto their mobile phones and those people who have a loose bladder – unless of course they have a seat on the aisle.

  1. Know your ticket details

You should know where to get your tickets, when to go for your performance and where to sit. As a first timer the best choice is to attend a weekend matinee or go on a weeknight. They tend to be a bit more informal. You can always find a seating arrangement chart online and it comes complete with the different price structures. Always go through such charts before making an order for your tickets. The truth of the matter is that the most expensive tickets do not automatically guarantee the best value for your money. Seats at the center of the theater are always the best choice as they offer you the best possible view from all angles.

If you try to purchase tickets and find out they are already sold out you can always check back again after two days. Some people will return their tickets to be sold again in the event that they will not be attending the performance.

Most times you will be required to pay for your tickets using your credit card. This often means that your name will join the ranks of the cultural mailing list. If not for anything else at least your postman will be really impressed by you.

  1. Know how to dress up

You probably want to guess long evening gowns complete with gloves for the ladies and black tie and tails for the gentlemen right?

Wrong! This stereotype is probably the reason why many people are intimidated by the thought of attending any of these functions.

The truth is that you rarely find these kinds of formal dressings anymore. Not unless you are attending an opening night.

The good news is that you can attend an opera dressed in a nice dress for the ladies and for the men a neat jacket would do.

If your company to a Nutcracker performance is a little girl she would have to dress up in the prettiest velvet dress, a tiara and some white tights. She can also add on to that whatever she thinks little princesses should wear so to speak.

  1. Know when to show up and what to carry with you

You’re now looking dapper and nothing should ruin all that effort you have put into planning an enjoyable time at the opera or ballet. Things that you can carry with you to an opera performance include breath mints and unwrapped candies, tissues or a handkerchief, small binoculars or opera glasses if you own some, the right underwear and outerwear and an umbrella if it looks like it is going to rain. Always be wary of the traffic and give your self sufficient time to get to your destination. The worst thing that you can do is arrive there out of breath and drenched in sweat because you had to rush there. Keep it in your mind that you are a high-class citizen now. Arriving late will mean you will not get to sit until the ushers feel it’s the right chance to allow you in. Nothing ruins the whole event than having to watch a huge chunk of the show from a closed circuit TV in the lobby.

  1. Know what to do when you arrive

So you’ve arrived on time and that’s fantastic. On arrival you can expect to be greeted at the door after which you will be asked for your tickets and give you back the stubs. The usher will then proceed to direct you on where to go. Whether to use the door to your left or right or take the stairs. Arriving early gives you a chance to find the coat and rest rooms. You also have the time to mill around and admire other people who have shown up to attend the opera. Many people who have never been to the opera automatically assume that everyone else will be talking and socializing with each other while they will know no one. Not true at all. While there may be attention seekers amongst you, dont be fooled to think that everyone knows each other. Some venues offer their patrons a chance to go to the bar and make a pre order for a drink during the intermission. You should definitely make this pre order because when you do so you are given a number and when you come out for the intermission you find your drink ready on a table with your number. Way to separate yourself from the fellow confused masses who will be at the time scrambling to get their drink and finish up in time for the news pat of the act.

  1. Know when to sit

Of course you should be wary of what’s happening around you once you arrive. If you notice a slight surge in power and a dimming of lights followed by an alarm going off, that’s a signal that you should be heading towards your seat. You will be required to hand over your ticket stub to the attendant at the entrance. They will look at it and return it to you. Since you will be indoors your seat does not have to be wiped down with a cloth and for this reason you do not have to give a tip to the attendant like you would do if you were at the stadium. Depending on your seat you will either have to let people move past you or you will have to move past people who are already sited. Additionally, such venues tend to be equipped with quality flood lights (like the ones available at Olympia Lighting) that can illuminate the space properly. This can help you navigate towards your seat. Whatever the case, exercise high levels of courtesy. Once you are seated, always go through the synopsis to know the gist of what’s happening and get to know how long you will be seated until the intermission.

  1. Know how to behave yourself once the performance begins

The lights have now been dimmed and guests break out into clapping and you can’t seem to figure out why they are doing so. This happens because of the arrival of the orchestra’s conductor. Usually the orchestra will be seated at the orchestra pit. Did you know that many times someone from the stage falls into this pit?

That’s a story for another day though. What happens next is the commencement of the music. From this moment on you should stop talking. Even if the curtain has not gone up the performance has already begun. By this time your mobile phone should be off. Not on any other setting like vibration or whatever else. It should be off. Even on silent mode your phone will light up if you receive a call or text message. If you were to pull out your phone this light will be in full view of the people sitting next to you.

  1. Know when to applaud

Most opera audiences will only clap at very specific intervals. When they do clap it’s usually after a beautiful song and they only clap at the very end of the song. As a general rule, when you attend and opera, clap only when the rest of the audience applauds. Nothing says inexperience and humiliation than bolting upwards and shouting ‘bravo’ in the middle of a classical performance. And just for the record it should be ‘brava’ not ‘bravo’ but that too is a story for another day.

If you will be attending a ballet performance you will notice that the audience will applaud after an exceptional dance. They also applaud after one dancer performs (a solo), after two dancers perform together (pas de deux) or when a dancer leaps and spins around for a long time without falling into the pit.

Audiences are also required to applaud when each act comes to an end. This is usually signified by the curtain falling and the house lights coming on.

  1. Know the basic during the intermission

Having enjoyed the first part of the performance it’s now time for a short break when you can use the restroom, stretch, get a drink or smoke a cigarette. There’s almost always a long line at the ladies rest room so if you are a lady you should hurry to the restroom as soon as the house lights come on. The end of the intermission period will be signified by the dimming of lights and the alarm chiming. When you hear this alarm you should get back to your seat and move easily through the people sitting on your row. After all, you are now familiar with each other by now.


It’s all over now….

The performance has come to a close. You have to admit you enjoyed yourself. The audience is still clapping and the theater is still dark even though the curtain has already fallen.

It’s usually like this because it’s time for the curtain call. If you were to decide to leave at this time you would damage your already high class reputation badly.

It’s expected that you should be able to sit through the curtain call as a way of showing appreciation for the cast and their effort into creating an exceptional performance.

The performers’ will always step in front of the curtain or the curtain may be raised completely. Minor characters will show themselves first and you are required to clap for them. This will continue until the major stars appear at the end. At this juncture you can yell, scream, whistle and clap till your hands hurt. You can also choose to stand if you would like to. Performers really appreciate standing ovations.

You know it’s time to leave when the curtain falls, stays that way and the house lights come back on.

Since there will be many people leaving the venue you need not get stuck in traffic. Instead you can go for a drink or dinner and because you will have the program with you, chances are that there will be someone who will ask you how the performance was to which you should always respond “Incredible!”, “Exceptional!”, “Very good!” or any other word that you can think of that denotes high quality. Chances are that you will mean what you say anyway.