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Opera Etiquette

Opera Etiquette – Opera 101

opera etiquitte


The Dress Code –  Opera is a magical, theatrical, dramatic affair.  Most people associate going to the opera with very elegant dress: 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 attending an 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, of course, but a sport jacket and jeans will work for all you “primo uomos.” Divas can wear a dress, skirt and blouse, or dress pants and heels. 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 pull out your pearls, faux fur, black tie, white gloves and top hat, and 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 before attending an opera, is to go to the specific detail page for the event you are attending and read the story of the opera.  Remember, Opera is “Theater First” – so the story is what you need to be most familiar with. It’s the story that moves the composer to create a great work of art, and it’s the story that is 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 performed in languages other than English, you don’t need to speak a foreign language to understand it. During every opera performance in the Marin Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium, Golden Gate Opera projects English subtitles above the stage, so you can read along.

Here’s a fun fact: did you know that the composer puts many of the directions for the acting and staging right into the score? That means that in a full synopsis of an opera,  you will read what is happening and where the characters go to on the stage.

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 until after the Act, aria or ensemble has ended. Just hold your breath and keep listening until it’s ended. Please wait until we are all clapping and exclaiming together.   Then clap and exclaim to your heart’s delight! Our singers and the other opera patrons will appreciate it.

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 also means that everyone can hear your cell phone ring. Please turn it off before the opera starts.

And while we are on the same subject, please open all candy/cough drops/lozenges before the show starts.  Why? 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 website 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.
  • And most important of all – you’ll be allowed in.  Unfortunately, if you are late and the opera has started, many theaters will not seat you. That’s because, with the very first notes of the orchestra and the opening of the curtain, the audience is immediately transported to into the magic of the story and beautiful setting. And believe us, 2000 people do not want to be disturbed and shaken out of their reverie so you can get to your seat. That’s why, if you are late, our ushers may very well ask you to sit in the back instead of in those nice seats you paid for down front.

So please, for your enjoyment and that of all our patrons, plan to arrive early.  You want to enjoy your night at the opera, and we want you, and all our guests, to enjoy their night at the opera.