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Opera Etiquette

Opera Etiquette – Opera 101

opera etiquitte


The Dress Code – This is Marin after all. You need not attend in furs, faux furs, long gloves and tuxes, but if you must we welcome it; and for the more casual set, a sport jacket and jeans will work just fine. But it can be fun to dress up.

What to Bring – If your know it’s a tragedy, bring a small box of Kleenex.

How to Prepare – Best to go to the specific detail page for the event you are attending and read the story of the opera a couple of weeks in advance (or that day), so you get a head start on understanding the story. Remember, Opera is “Theatre 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 is the source of everything you will experience at the live performance.

Online you can find samples of the famous arias on YouTube. Check out this sample of Leontyne Price singing “Un Bel Di

If you wish to immerse yourself in the topic, you can read the original book or play.

How will I understand it? 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 supertitles above the stage, during every opera performance in the Marin Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium.

Did you know that the composer wrote into the score many of the directions for the acting and staging? 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?
Opera singers love to hear appreciation for their work. We do too. Clapping your appreciation, yelling “Bravo!” and giving the old Standing “O” are great at the right times during the show.

What’s the right time for it?
Generally, opera goers clap at the end of each Act, or at the end of a spectacular aria or ensemble. “Wow wasn’t the staging great? Was that a great melody or what? Did you see how all those people came down the stairs on stage while singing?” These are some of the thoughts you might have in your mind right before the urge to applaud turns into your hands clapping. But don’t say these words aloud during the performance. Hold your breath and keep listening. If you aren’t sure when to clap, wait for those around you! Then go for it!

Opera singers train so that their voices can be heard without a microphone. And the Marin Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium’s great acoustics help you hear. But the ability of the theatre to send the sound around to the audience, also means that everyone can hear your cell phone ring. Please be sure to turn it off before the opera starts.

And on the same subject, do remember to open your lozenge before the show starts because everyone can also hear the crackling as you open the wrapper. And you really do want to help everyone listen and get those goose pimples from 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. This way you can stroll leisurely to the theatre entrance. Parking is Free by the way and well lit. But arrive early so you can park closer to the theatre!

Reasons to be early – on time:

  • You won’t have to run from your car to the theatre entrance and arrive in the door all sweaty and out of breath. This can ruin a nice outfit.
  • 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.
  • Most of all, if you are late and the opera has started, many theatres 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 give some thought to planning how to arrive early-on time. You will want to enjoy your comfortable seats in the beautiful theatre designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.