There is nothing worse than going to the movies wanting to watch a riotous comedy and ending up with a tear-jerker instead. The same is true of opera. But for opera newbies facing choices that are diverse and unfamiliar, picking which one to see can seem just as daunting as singing onstage themselves. Fortunately, matching an opera to your mood is a great way to find a work that resonates with you emotionally. Here’s a guide on how to evaluate shows to decide if they’ll work well with your current feelings.
In order to find an opera that compliments your mood, you first have to identify what you are craving. Are you in need of a little laughter? Or feeling lovelorn and looking for commiseration? Perhaps you are pensive and keen to contemplate mankind’s foibles. Take a moment to figure out how you are feeling and what emotion you would enjoy immersing yourself in.
Once you’ve determined your mood, have a look around. What venues show operas near you? Major opera houses will have elegant interiors with first class singers and lavish productions, but unless you are willing to shell out for a ticket, you could be viewing everything at a distance. Smaller organizations—think independent theaters, regional houses, or touring companies—tend to be more bare-bones stylistically but offer unrivaled intimacy, bringing you right into the action. Once you’ve decided on the type of atmosphere you want, make a note of a few operas playing at your selected venue that intrigue you.
Opera is the union of music and drama, and the overture—the instrumental piece that comes before the curtain rises—provides a great overview of the opera’s emotional content, often introducing main musical themes. Is it surprisingly energetic, like Mozart’s The Magic Flute? Or does it powerfully swell and surge, like Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer? If you feel the overture reflects your current feelings, chances are the entire opera will take you along for a great ride. Some operas don’t have overtures, however. In this case, you can always listen to an aria (solo song) or a snippet of a chorus number to get a feel for the emotional style.
You know your mood. You know the venue. You found some music that speaks to you. But will the plot hold you? Sometimes, the story line will be obvious, Verdi’s Othello, for instance. But other times you will need to do a little research. Look up a brief synopsis (be careful if you don’t want spoilers!) and glance over it. Is it described as a tragedy? Comedy? What are the main themes? Imagine yourself sitting down with the characters, like you would with friends over a cup of tea, and catching up on their life happenings. Would you be listening curiously to their latest drama in life? If the answer is yes, then the story will speak to you from the stage as well.
Once you’ve done the work, bought the tickets and seen the show, take a little time to reflect on your experience. What did you like about the evening as whole? What did you like about the opera? Did one moment in particular stand out? How did it make you feel? Don’t worry about trying to say something fancy—just think about your personal reaction and put it into words, whether in your mind or on paper. This will help you better understand what it was about the opera that worked (or didn’t work) and will guide you in fine-tuning your future opera explorations!