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A Love Affair with Opera - Opera Primer

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An into to opera

If you're like most Americans, you have to admit that opera can be a little intimidating, even boring, at first. On a huge stage, with a giant orchestra, actors in strange costumes sing in foreign languages about love, death, jealousy, and murder. We're often not familiar with the stories they're telling, and we certainly can't understand what's happening on the stage. What's more, many of us are not used to listening to classical music, or dressing up for a show.

When operas were first written, however, they were the Hollywood films of their time. People went with their family and friends, packed lunches, and probably didn't change into formal attire. The music wasn't classical then; it was modern and very popular. Today, however, it's easy to get the impression that opera has been appropriated by the highbrow few as a private club into which average people are seldom admitted. The tickets can be expensive, you may feel compelled to dress up, and, if you haven't prepared in advance, you won't know what's going on.

However, many opera companies today are working to make opera more accessible to average folks. They are now displaying English translations of the operas either projected above the stage or scrolling on small screens in front of each seat. Hence, you may now be able to follow the story. This innovation, more than anything else, makes a world of difference in whether you'll pay attention or fall asleep. Nowadays, too, clothing has become less formal. Except for opening night, which is still a grand affair, you will not be expected to wear a tuxedo or evening gown, unless, of course, you want to.

Today, most opera companies also provide a synopsis of the opera in the program you receive when you enter the theater. Reading it carefully will help you understand the story. Many Web sites also provide these synopses, as well as audio clips from previous performances of the opera to help you get acquainted with what you're about to watch. Using these tools before a show can change watching opera from a bore into a thrilling theatrical experience.

There are also many small opera companies, like the Amato Opera, where enjoying a show is easy because you can get close to the actors, really see the costumes and sets, and enjoy a more direct interaction with the events on stage. This is perhaps the best opera experience for the novice, and it's not at all formal or intimidating. Through these adaptations, opera companies are trying to make the seemingly strange world of opera more accessible and relevant to the American viewer, and encouraging today's audiences to take their first steps toward enjoying the opera.
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