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Anne Ku at Ilp in May 2001
Anne Ku writes about her travels, conversations, thoughts, events, music, and anything else that is interesting enough to fill a web page. She has written and produced two chamber operas, premiered in Utrecht, Netherlands. See her publication list for more.
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Bon Journal

Opera for first timers

There is a first time for everything and everybody, including opera. Some people never discover it in their lifetimes. Others give up after an unpleasant initial experience. Few are fortunate enough to persist to become opera lovers. I, for one, discovered it late and nearly gave up after the first two operas. Luckily my curiosity got the better of me.

For many people, opera is forbidden territory. It doesn't register on their radar screen. The ticket prices are prohibitive. The risk of non-enjoyment is too high. The opportunity cost (of doing something else with their time) is considerable. It isn't as available or accessible as musical productions. For all these reasons, I didn't go to my first opera until well into my adulthood.

Opera was not in my vocabulary until someone invited me to see Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte, a comic opera much loved by everyone. This "culture vulture" took me to my first two operas in London. It was more than ten years before I went to my third opera. In my composition class in 2006, I joined other students in writing a short opera. When it came to writing my second, I felt the need to see a real opera. To help me improve my composition of opera and add additional acts, I decided to attend as many operas as possible. Marco Polo is the tenth opera I've seen this year (2008).

Opera belongs to one of those "high arts" very similar to addiction. The more you indulge in it, the more you love and want it. Studies in cultural economics (the economics of culture) have shown that education and exposure increase your enjoyment.

How to get started? Here are some practical suggestions.

  1. Go to concerts that feature opera highlights, i.e. famous arias from operas.
  2. Read the stories behind the famous operas.
  3. Watch DVD's of the popular operas.
  4. Ask someone who loves opera to take you to your first opera.
  5. Do background reading (synopsis) and listening before you go.
  6. Read reviews of the opera you will see.

One last piece of advice: don't let your initial experience (if unpleasant) taint or dissuade you from going to other operas. I got annoyed at my noisy neighbours at my first opera. The second one was too hard to understand. I let 10 years go by before I dared try again! What a pity!

Go for the popular operas --- you're bound to enjoy them! Modern operas may be harder to understand because the music is not your typical easy listening radio station. Select opera in the genre of the music you like. For example, if you like Mozart, visit his operas.

20 November 2008

Related links:
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Which operas you should see for the first time
Opera etiquette
Naxos introduction to opera
Introduction to opera
Introduction to opera - Australia
Opera made simple
Festival of opera in Europe