A Beginner’s Guide to Opera (Originally published in The Lady) June 2015

There is a plethora of opera companies in and around the UK all putting on productions of familiar and well-loved operas by Puccini, Mozart and Verdi in venues ranging from pub theatres to the Royal Opera House itself. So why go to see new opera? Contrary to popular belief (in certain circles), opera is certainly not dead. It’s not even running a temperature. Opera is not something that was written a century or two ago and limited to a number of masterpieces that are recycled time and time again. By going to see a new opera you are witnessing the future, whilst simultaneously having the potential to be a part of history. Not to mention, you are supporting a new generation of artists and composers to enrich our culture, the very life-blood of society.

  • Take advantage of opera festivals:

The advantage of seeing an established opera is that you have at least some idea of what to expect in terms of story and music. Many operagoers will have seen multiple productions of the same work. So how do you choose a new opera? This is where opera festivals come in handy, and here in the UK we play host to the largest new opera festival in the world – Tête-a-Tête: The Opera Festival – taking place every summer throughout July and August. The festival offers a veritable smorgasbord of performances to choose from ranging in length from 20 minutes to two performances for the price of a single club ticket. You can’t go wrong.

  • Be open to new experiences:

Keep an open mind when you go to see a new opera. The themes may be very different to the love, loss and the mistaken identity that is the bread-and-butter of established works. While historical figures and mythical subjects still have their place in new opera, contemporary composers and librettists often deal with a mixture of abstract concepts and topical subjects. I can guarantee that there will be something that you can relate to whether it be pop culture references, a new perspective on the mundane, or our increasing reliance on technology (as explored in the opera I am performing in – Your Call… by Kevin Jones)

  • Don’t pay too much attention to reviews:

Reviews certainly have their place but one person’s disappointment can easily be another’s triumph. The beauty of new opera is experience without preconceived notions. Art is not simply about entertainment, but designed to trigger emotions, reactions and discussion, and your own experience is as equally valuable as that of the person sat next to you.

  • Dressing the part:

Traditionally, a night at the opera revolved around society and was the place to see and be seen. Nowadays etiquette around the dress code is much more relaxed, and while I don’t want to dissuade you from donning your glad rags if you so wish, I would recommend aiming for “smart-casual” – especially for evening performances – although this is by no means obligatory. One thing I will say though: if the performance is fairly lengthy make sure you’re wearing something you are comfortable in.

  • Finding the right price:

Opera has a somewhat negative reputation when it comes to accessibility, especially when it comes to ticket prices. Yes, in certain major houses tickets can be pricey, but most companies and houses have plenty of offers available and you don’t need to end up in the gods or behind a pillar in order to keep costs down. In fact a visit to the opera is frequently cheaper than a trip to the cinema. Offers include first-time attendees, advanced package discounts, student tickets, and purchases on the day. You can also become a friend of the opera house, which as well as providing support to the company gives you access to dress rehearsal tickets for just £7 or less (English National Opera and Royal Opera House). It’s often cheaper to book online as well, and events such as the Tête-a-Tête Opera Festival offer early bird discounts so if you book before June 1st, tickets are just £5, as opposed to £7.50 online or £9.50 via telephone or in person.

  • Above all, enjoy yourself!:

New operas are often humorous and satirical – less furrowed brows and more tongue in cheek. If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? By being the audience you are a vital part of the creative process and speaking as a singer there’s nothing better than an audience who is enjoying themselves. It can absolutely transform a performance. And by perhaps stepping out of your comfort zone you are doing something different. You are seeing something new, and you are now a part of something truly wonderful. Thank you.


Lisa will be performing in Kevin Jones’ Your Call… which will be performed at Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival on 8 and 9 July 2015 at Kings Place.

http://www.yourcallopera.com/           www.twitter.com/yourcallopera

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s