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Opera 101 – The Basics

Every baseball fan knows what to do during the seventh-inning stretch. Likewise, every opera fan knows to honor certain longstanding traditions. Here are a few to keep in mind:

Is being on time important?

Unlike a movie theater, Tulsa Opera does not allow latecomers to take their seats after the performance has begun as a courtesy to the audience members who are listening attentively to the live performance in progress. (Patrons who miss the curtain can still take in the performance—live—on television monitors in the lobby. Latecomers can then take their seats at a suitable interval—usually intermission.)

Can we talk during the performance?

Tulsa Opera’s singers and orchestra perform without amplification. Unlike a movie theatre, there is no Dolby™ Stereo in the Performing Arts Center, and some of the most dramatic moments in opera are also the quietest moments. Noisy disruptions such as talking, rustling programs, or fiddling with candy wrappers are not “part of the music”. Opera fans are considerate of others who are also attending the performance.

Will I understand what the performers are singing?

For nearly 25 years now, opera in the United States has been presented with “surtitles” – i.e. English translations projected above the stage. You may not speak or understand Italian, French, or German, but surtitles have made it possible for English-speaking audiences to follow the story and the action of each opera throughout the performance.

How do I show my appreciation to the talent?

Enthusiastic displays of appreciation are always welcome after a well-executed aria! If you’re not exactly sure when to react, just follow the crowd. Feel free to shout “Bravo!” (for a male singer), “Brava!” (for a female singer), or “Bravi” (for the whole cast). All three expressions simply mean “Terrific”.

What do I wear to the Opera?

Once patronized mainly by royalty, people from all walks of life today enjoy opera. The only “elitist” quality of the opera these days is the quality of the performance. In modern day Tulsa, you’ll see opera-goers wearing everything from ball gowns to cowboy boots. Feel free to dress up for a special night out, dress down for comfort, or find your own happy medium. When it comes to the opera, almost anything but the most casual wear is considered appropriate.

What makes opera different from a Broadway musical?

Apart from predating musicals by 400 years or so, operas generally feature fuller, more sophisticated orchestration. Most importantly, there are no amplification devices in opera; every note is played or sung live, and that is part of the thrill of hearing live opera – a single human voice projecting over a large orchestra into a 2,400 seat hall with no amplification whatsoever. It’s “Olympian” in terms of human and artistic achievement.
And while many opera buffs call the famous tenor aria “Nessun dorma” (“No one sleeps”) from Puccini’s Turandot a hit tune, not many Broadway performers would attempt to sing its vocally challenging high B-flat.

Still, can’t musicals such as Phantom of the Opera, which is sung all the way through – like most (but not all) operas – be called an opera?

Often there is no clear “yes” or “no,” even with through-sung works. The only real answer may lie in the intent of the composer. Because Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote Phantom of the Opera for the world of musical theater, it’s considered a musical.

Some other reminders:

  • Please unwrap all cough drops and candies before the curtain rises.

  • Please use moderation in applying perfume, cologne, or scented lotion; many people are highly allergic to perfumes.

  • Many operas contain adult themes. Before bringing children, it is best to make sure that the material is appropriate for their age or maturity level. Our ticket office staff can help you make this determination. If bringing children, instruct them in proper audience behavior. It is also helpful to familiarize them with the story in advance so that they know what to expect.

  • Please turn off all beepers, cell phones, and watch alarms before entering the theater.

  • The Overture is part of the performance and contains some of the most beautiful music of the opera, even though there is no singing. Please refrain from talking during the Overture.

  • We realize that traffic both in and out of the theater can be congested following a performance; still, it is distracting to other patrons to leave while the opera is still in progress.

Thank you for your consideration. Enjoy the performance.