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Opera Etiquette

Opera Etiquette – Opera 101

opera etiquitte


The Dress Code –  Opera is a magical, theatrical, dramatic affair.  And very often we associate going to the opera with a top hat and tails, long flowing gowns, sparkling diamonds, white gloves and furs. And why not dress up for the opera? It’s not every day you are regaled with the power of spine-tingling unamplified voices and transformed by the emotional roller coaster ride that is a live operatic performance.

But what if the old cummerbund doesn’t fit anymore and you never did own any real diamonds? Not to worry. There is no fixed dress code for Opera, and here at Golden Gate Opera we realize that this is Marin after all. So feel free to dress more casually. Leave the Birkenstocks at home, but a sport jacket and jeans for “primo uomos.” or dress pants and heels for “divas” will work. Think business casual. Think Sunday best. Wear what you would wear going out to a nice dinner. Or, have a little fun and use this as your excuse to dress to the nines.

What to Bring –  Bring your lorgnette if you have one. If not, bring your opera glasses (binoculars), kleenex and unwrapped (the crinkle of you unwrapping candy can be heard throughout the entire theater, disturbing everyone) candy or cough drops.  Good manners are always a good thing to have on hand as is a cell phone that is turned off.

How to Prepare – The best way to prepare is to go to the specific detail page for the event you are attending and read the story of the opera before you attend the performance.  Remember, Opera is “Theater First” – so the story is what you need to be familiar with first. It is what moves the composer to create a great work of art and it’s the source of everything you will experience at the live performance.

You can find samples of famous arias online on YouTube to get you started.  Check out this sample of Leontyne Price singing “Un Bel Di

If you want to really immerse yourself in the opera, you can read the original book or play.

How will I understand it?  Dio mio, don’t they sing in different languages? Although opera is often, but not always, performed in languages other than English – you don’t need to speak a foreign language to understand it. Golden Gate Opera projects English subtitles above the stage, during every opera performance in the Marin Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium.

Did you know that the composer puts many of the directions for the acting and staging right into the score? In a full synopsis, you will read what is happening and where the character goes to on the stage. Opera composers are dramatists!

Do I have to be quiet during the performance?
Yes, you do.  Because you won’t want to miss one note and neither will anyone else.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t clap, yell “Bravo!” give our performers a Standing “O” and show your appreciation of our wonderful singers and musicians at the right times during the show.

When is the right time to clap?
Generally, you clap at the end of each Act or at the end of a spectacular aria or ensemble.

Now, we know you get swept up in the thrill of it all and can barely contain yourself from shouting out how wonderful the singing or staging  is during the performance — but please don’t.  Please save all of that for after the Act, aria or ensemble has ended, and we’re all clapping and exclaiming together.  Our singers and the other opera patrons will appreciate it. Just hold your breath and keep listening until it’s ended. Then clap and exclaim. And exclaim and clap.

If you aren’t sure when to clap, wait for those around you! Then go for it!

Can I bring my cellphone? 

Only if you turn it off so the music can turn you on.

Opera singers train hard so that their voices can be heard without a microphone. And the Marin Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium has great acoustics to help you hear. But that wonderful acoustic quality of the theater means that everyone can hear your cell phone ring. Please turn it off before the opera starts.

And on the same subject, please open all candy/cough drops/lozenges before the show starts. Because everyone can hear your wrappers crackling.  Please be considerate so that everyone (including you!) can hear every note and fully enjoy the beautiful music.

What time should I arrive?
Check your tickets or the web site for the starting time of the show. Then plan to arrive at the Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium parking lot well before that. You want to have plenty of time to park and settle yourself in your seat before the show begins.

Parking is Free and well lit.  Arrive early so you can park closer to the theater!

Reasons to be early – on time:

  • Less stress. You won’t have to run from your car to the theater entrance and arrive in the door all sweaty and out of breath. This can ruin a nice outfit.
  • More enjoyment. You will have a relaxing time going in and finding your seats, and you can read the program notes before the curtain rises while the lights in the audience are still on.
  • You’ll be allowed in. Most of all, if you are late and the opera has started, many theaters will not seat you. The reason is that the audience is getting right into the magic of the story, with the very first notes of the orchestra and the first sight of the beautiful setting as the curtain opens; and 2000 people do not want to be interrupted from their going into this reverie of the romantic story. The ushers may ask you to sit in the back instead of in those nice seats you paid for down front.

So you really do want to plan on arriving early.  You want to enjoy your night at the opera, and we want you to enjoy your night at the opera, in your comfortable seats in the beautiful theater designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.