How to experience opera for the first time

I did not grow up in a musical family. My parents never took me to an opera, and many opera performances bore me. So how did I come to love opera? How does someone with my background end up as a professional opera singer? It’s all about first impressions.

I was in third grade the first time I heard opera. In our choir concert, we got to sing the Toreador song with the cool high school seniors. I can still remember the English words we used! I remember feeling that I loved this music. So what if I couldn’t always understand the words, I had that problem with some pop songs too!

Our first experience with something new can make or break it for us: A first date, a first time to a museum, a first time abroad, etc. I have often heard people say things like, “I don’t like heavy metal music”, or “I’m not really much of a museum person.” When I hear such comments I always wonder: Why? Now, let’s take a word like opera. Many of us think, without a doubt, that opera is “not for me”. But WHY do we think that? You most likely have heard snippets of opera in various films, commercials and TV cartoons that you love. I just heard one of the best uses of “Nessun dorma” in a recent episode of Daredevil on Netflix.

So what makes this word “opera” so loaded? I believe it is all in the introduction. I have made it my mission both personally and with The Cast to give people an inspiring first experience with opera music. Here are four steps of how to experience opera for the first time:

1. Choose wisely

Your first book wasn’t Shakespeare, was it? So, your first opera should probably not be a 6-hour long piece by Wagner. Start light. Choose something with a story you know or a song you’ve heard. If you like that “O mio babbino” song you heard on The X Factor, then try the opera it’s from, called Gianni Schicchi. If you love the musical Rent, then definitely see its source, La boheme. If you like theater and dance, then try an operetta  like Die Fledermaus. It’s OK to choose an opera  for the pretty costumes, if that’s your thing. I always find the comedies easier to swallow than the dramas. But then again, I will never turn down a good cry.

2. Wear comfortable shoes

It is a myth that you have to get dressed up to go to an opera or a classical concert. In fact, you don’t even have to go to the theater. With groups like Opera on Tap, Classical Revolution and Opera Up Close, listening to opera can be as simple as going to your local pub. Wear whatever you like, and check out what’s happening in your neighborhood. The Metropolitan Opera - one of the best houses in the world - even has the Met in HD which live broadcasts operas in movie theaters. So, if you come from a small, Midwestern town like me, you can still see what’s playing on the hot stages of New York City. For Roku users, you can also access this from home :)

3. Pre-game

How many of us know the stats of all the players and recent games before watching the World Cup or the Super Bowl? Even if you don’t, we all have friends and family who are happy to fill us in. (Thanks Till!) Do yourself a favor, and do a little pre-game preparation beforehand. This can be as simple as reading the wikipedia synopsis of the plot and listening to some tunes beforehand. Stream some free tracks or videos on Youtube. Download the hit tune from the show on iTunes. You wouldn’t go to a movie without first watching the trailer getting some reviews from some friends, right?

4. Be open

Trying new things helps us to grow. Whether you like the experience or not, having the experience gives you something on which to build an informed opinion. How do you know you don’t like coffee until you’ve tried it! I like to follow the rule of two: I will try everything twice. Even if you don’t like it in the end, at least you can say you’ve really tried it. Then decide if opera is really “not for you”.

One of the best compliments I hear after a Cast show is, “That was opera? I didn’t know I liked opera.” I have even converted some of my non-music friends (whom we lovingly call “normies”) to full-blown opera lovers. They really should make better concert schwag for that :)

I fundamentally believe that music is for everyone. Opera is simply another kind of music. So change things up for your musical taste buds! And if you have any recommendations for heavy metal, I’m all ears.