New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.
October 21, 2015

The Ten Commandments of Watching Opera

You, too, can become an opera fan! Lots of people immediately write off opera, saying that they don't understand it, or that opera's a highfalutin' art form that feels irrelevant. We at the New Vic are rethinking these stereotypes and offer invigorating re-interpretations of classics in our season—Isango Ensemble's adaptation of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream is a shining example of just that! But there are also a number of ways to make traditional opera feel fun, exciting and accessible.

If you and your family will be attending your first opera at the New Vic this month, but are feeling trepidatious about your ten-year-old's reaction to Titania and Oberon, read our Ten Commandments for Watching Opera below. A little preparation will help you to get the most out of your experience!

I. Thou might already be a fan

Opera pops up everywhere—from Skittles commercials to internet memes, so there's really no reason to feel intimidated!

Mozart portrait meme: If you ever feel back about procrastinating, just remember that Mozart wrote the overture to Don Giovanni the morning it premiered.

II. Thou shalt honor the music

The great part about opera is that the music says it all! Even if the set design, costuming or lighting is gorgeous, opera is first and foremost about the music, and painstakingly composed works communicate emotions and story through music alone (the rest is just extra!). As The New York Times put it, "in opera, music is the driving force; in musical theater, words come first."

III. Thou shalt not worry about hearing every word

Many operas are in foreign languages, but even those sung in your native tongue can be tough to understand. Opera singers do their best when it comes to diction, but part of opera singing technique requires singers to modify spoken pronunciation in order to sound their best (especially on the high notes). Let the music tell the story if you're feeling lost.

IV. Thou shalt not listen to stereotypes

"It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings." Ugh... When you become a fan, you'll realize that opera is way more than some stereotypes make it out to be. The prima donna is not necessarily temperamental—she's just the chief female singer—and her fellow divas may well be humbled by their fame!

V. Thou shalt get to know the classics

As an opera beginner, your best plan for getting to know the art form is to start with the classics. Find a playlist below that we curated, and have a listen. You'll hear favorite songs, many of which we'll bet you've heard before!


VI. Thou shalt have an opinion

Sometimes there's the misconception that just because something is lauded as a "classic," you have to like it. Listen to or go see a few operas and decide what you like—a crisp Mozart tune is very different from a undulating Puccini score.

VII. Thou shalt know the singers

It's hard to go wrong when seeing any trained, professional opera singer perform live. But hardcore opera buffs will go to shows just to hear certain singers. Here are a few names to get you started: Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Maria Callas, Renee Fleming, Anna Netrebko.

VIII. Thou shalt know the vocabulary

Here's a list of terms that will help you on your first trip to the opera (click to enlarge).

IX. Thou shalt know the composers

Most of the famous composers that you can name probably wrote an opera, but there were a few that really perfected the medium. While Beethoven wrote one opera, symphonies were more his specialty. Who are considered the best opera composers, then? Mozart, Wagner, Verdi, Rossini, and Puccini are recognized as a few of the greats.

X. Thou shalt avoid snobbery

When you've become an opera fan, make sure you spread the love, and help people understand that opera isn't high-brow and stuffy! There's nothing wrong with getting your Wagner knowledge from the Looney Tunes episode when Elmer Fudd sings "kill the wabbit" to the tune of "Die Walkure."

Editor's Note: This post was originally written by Hillary Reeves and first appeared on our blog during our 2014-15 Season, in advance of Isango Ensemble's The Magic Flute.
Posted by Zack Ramadan
Tags: 2015-16, opera
Mark Schubin
Hear! Hear!

And, believe it or not, much of the modern media world was invented for opera. Edison's first patent filing for movies had as their only purpose presenting opera. The language of sportscasting was developed in opera houses. The first newscast was created for opera. Headphones? Electronic home entertainment? Digital audio recording? Stereo sound transmission? All for opera!
12/30/2015 1:50:36 PM

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