Like the sound of opera but afraid to go? This beginners guide is here to help you take your first steps into opera the easy way!
Like the sound of opera but afraid to go? Enjoy film scores and some classical music but don't know where to start with the sung stuff? Considering hiring opera singers to provide your wedding entertainment? This beginners guide is here to help you take your first steps into opera the easy way!
First of all, let's clear something up. Opera is not a stuffy, elitist art form that requires you to know music theory backwards or dress up like a penguin. Most opera was written with one purpose in mind - making loads of money at the box office. Just like West End or Broadway shows, opera can be big, brash, and bold, or more thoughtful and intimate, but ultimately it's designed to entertain you. There's a reason why Eastenders is called a 'soap opera'….
And just like any West End musical, opera is best seen live. Opera isn't just music, it's full-on drama, pure theatre, with the excitement of an orchestra and the thrill of superb voices that you can quite literally sometimes feel as well as hear. And you can wear what you like when you go to see it!
Where To See Opera
You don't need to dive in and pay large amounts for expensive tickets at a major venue for your first opera experience. Most UK opera companies tour around the country to bigger theatres, and you can hear superb opera for a lot less cash. Opera is also very popular for festivals, events and corporate entertainment, so you might come across classical singers performing opera highlights (aka the best bits!) in unusual spaces, from churches to parks or hotels.
Which Opera To Try First
la Traviata – Verdi
Quick Plot: Professional tart with a heart meets high society boy, girl loses boy due to his Dad interfering, girl gets sick, boy comes back, girl dies. This is the ultimate soap opera opera, full of big emotions, impossible dilemmas and some of the most gorgeous, heart-wrenching, life-affirming music you'll hear.
Famous bits: the Brindisi or Drinking Song "Libiamo" - we drink to the pleasures of life.
La bohème - Puccini
Quick Plot: Out of work poet Rodolfo meets self-employed girl Mimi, they go out, she leaves him for security of rich older man, he larks about with his flatmates, she comes back very ill and promptly dies in his arms. The ultimate operatic love story that's actually about surviving in hard times with little cash, so it's as relevant today as when it was first written in the early 1900s.
Famous bits: "Quando m'en vo" - Rodolfo's flatmates include painter Marcello and his on/off girlfriend Musetta, who is not above making a massive scene in the local café when she doesn't get what she wants.
Tosca – Puccini
Quick Plot: The opera about an opera singer Tosca, who has to make a sort of sexual Sophie's Choice when her lover is arrested and tortured by evil police chief Scarpia. Instead of sleeping with Scarpia, she stabs him, but when cornered on top of a tower in Rome, she leaps to her death rather than be captured. Great music, an edgy storyline and shorter than the average opera too!
Famous bits: Two big showstoppers, one for him, one for her. (Fair enough!) His is a big romantic farewell to the women he loves as the dawn rises on the day of his execution. "E lucevan le stelle". Hers is a big "Why me God?" number, "Vissi d'arte".
Barber of Seville - Rossini
Quick Plot: Rebellious teenager Rosina fancies a young student but her elderly guardian fancies her himself so won't let her out. Cue fixer Figaro, who dreams up ingenious schemes to get the young pair together. Oh, and he's not a student but a rich Lord, so that's a definite incentive to succeed! A fizzy, fun comedy that zips along at a cracking pace, and thanks to Rossini's trademark style of fast singing writing, more notes than the Bank of England.
Famous bits: The big number for Rosina is "Una voce poco fa'; if she can't marry her student, she'll make life hell for everyone!
The Marriage of Figaro –Mozart
Quick Plot: Think Downton Abbey with wigs! His Lordship fancies his wife’s maid, but she is also his wife's best mate and about to marry valet. Spanner in the works is the teenage pageboy who goes transvestite, and at the point where maid’s fiancé is almost sold to an old bag, everything is resolved by a Jeremy Kyle style biological father shock revelation. It’s the classic comedy of upstairs downstairs, 24 hours of confusion, overhearing, hiding, plotting and general confusion, in which the only person who has a grasp on it all is maid Susanna.
Famous Bits: Where to start! Almost everyone gets a big number (aria), but perhaps the best flavour of the fun comes from the ensembles. "Cosa sento" is where the errant pageboy tries to hide from the boss and the slimy music teacher, with disastrous results.
I'm A Convert - Can I Book Opera Singers For My Own Event?
Of course! Most opera singers or groups will perform at least some of the examples listed above, usually with piano accompaniment, for private parties, events, conferences, you name it. It's best to book such singers through an established entertainment agency, who can advise you on the requirements for staging an operatic evening, or what's required for 'surprise' opera singers for a dinner or similar. Opera singers listed with such agencies are experienced in performing in different spaces and venues, so sound great, and still give you that genuine opera tingle factor when they sing!
Written by Kirsty Young of Southern Funeral Singers - Adding something special to any funeral, helping celebrate a special life with beautiful music sung live.