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How to Watch (and Love) Opera

As a Colorado opera photographer, you might think that I’ve always had a passion for the art form, but you’d be wrong. I spent my childhood thinking that opera was super lame and that only boring, old people liked it. I watched opera on school field trips in grade school and high school and this opinion did not change. Sound familiar? It turns out I only hated it because I was doing it all wrong. It wasn’t until I started my internship at The Glimmerglass Festival that I learned how to watch opera the right way, and I fell in love. Now I’m here to tell you how to watch an opera.

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Victoria Munro in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of David Lang’s the little match girl passion

How to Prepare: First, and most importantly, do your research. Knowing the story and background of the opera you are about to see is incredibly helpful, especially if you aren’t fluent in the language of the show. Read the entire plot (everyone always dies in the end so don’t worry about spoilers) and read material about the version you are going to see. Often, opera companies will rewrite the script to make the show shorter, set it in a different time period, change the language, etc. If there is a pre-show or post-show talk, go to it! Opera is an immersive experience. The more involved you are, the richer the experience will be.

There is something for everyone to love at the opera. Figure out what that is to you. It could be the story, the music, the costumes, the classy feeling you get from being dressed up in a beautiful theater; whatever it is, focus on it. I am obsessed with elaborate set design and lighting. Knowing this will also help you decide where to sit. Do you want a view of the orchestra? Do you want to be close enough to see the prop details? I like sitting a bit farther back so I can see the whole set at once. Learning about all the work it takes to put on an opera will also help you appreciate the magic of it all.

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The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman

How to Dress: I love having an excuse to dress up, but if you’re not a suit and tie kinda guy, wear what you want. It’s 2015; no one cares if you’ve got your pearls on or not.

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Ginger Costa-Jackson as Marchesa in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Verdi’s King for a Day

How to Make it a Date (or a friend date!): If you can swing it, go out for a fancy dinner before or get drinks after. I know, opera tickets can be pricey if you’re on a budget (although they are now cheaper that football tickets), but you’re already downtown and probably dressed up, so why not make the most of it! Fancy fast food date anyone?


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Audience members

How to Behave: Be a polite audience member. Take your hat off before the show starts. Don’t chew gum loudly during the show. If you think you might cough, unwrap a cough drop before the curtains open. If you are really tall and someone really short is sitting behind you, offer to switch seats.
Turn off your phone. Don’t disrupt the show with your Kim Possible ringtone and never, ever take a photo or video during the show. This is very disrespectful and infringes upon other people’s intellectual property. I will personally smack you if I see an Instagram post from a live show. Instead, opt for an intermission selfie!


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Leah Bobbey as Pamina and Brett Sprague as Tamino in Opera Colorado’s Student Matinee of Mozart’s Magic Flute

How to Stay Awake: I’ll admit, it’s not super easy to sit in a comfy chair, in a dark theater at 10pm, and stay awake, no matter how much drama is going on in front of you. Use the intermission to keep yourself awake. Walk around, stay hydrated, maybe have a caffeinated drink. Many opera house bars have energy drinks if that’s what it takes. If you snore, have two energy drinks!


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Melody Moore as Senta in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman

How to Follow Along: Supertitles can be your best friend or your worst enemy. I prefer to not use them since they distract me from the show, but most people benefit from them greatly. Some opera houses, like the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver, have them on the backs of seats instead of above the stage. These are super awesome because you can choose your language or you can turn them off. If you are not using your supertitles screen, turn it off. ADD people like me will thank you.


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Cynthia Clayton at the Opera Colorado Champagne Gala 2015

How to Follow Up: After the show, talk with your date/friends about the show. Here are a few sample questions: What were your favorite parts? What parts pissed you off?  Who was the hottest character? But what does it all mean!?
Then get home safe, go to sleep and dream of opera!


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Andrew Paulson as Papageno and Katherine Sanford as Papagena in Opera Colorado’s Student Matinee of Mozart’s Magic Flute

Want engaging production photos to reach new audiences and sell more tickets? I would love to help tell your story through photos. Send me a message at

12 thoughts on “How to Watch (and Love) Opera

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