Hey LA, Give your Local Opera Some Love

Jun 23, 2010 by Lindsay Pullin

I’m not an opera critic and I can’t tell you which opera in the world is the best, or whether Placido Domingo’s voice has ripened with his old age. But I can tell you that living in Los Angeles provides us the opportunity to become an Opera fan, and with good reason.

The LA Opera performs their season performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and visiting the stage can be an experience unto itself. I particularly enjoy the giant hanging chandeliers. I always get in the mood for a high class experience when I walk inside and see them, and the elegant experience is complimented by its posh surroundings.

Although complimentary, the LA Opera is really the height of the experience, and it’s completely accessible to everyone– even if the idea of sitting through an Opera sounds about as fun as a root canal.

The first opera I saw was Carmen–I was in the 12th grade while on a Sunday field trip that lasted all day. We had the equivalent of nose-bleed seats. And we were unprepared for the beauty that the Opera emotes, (I may, or may not have passed out for approximately 20 minutes). But I’ve really progressed in my Opera appreciation, graduating to the next level this past weekend with Der Ring des Nibelungen. After seeing Wagner’s Das Rheingold on Friday night (2 hours 40 minutes with no intermission), and Die Walkurie on Sunday, I comprised a list of tips I wish someone had told me from day one.

Here are my 5 tips for first time Opera goers who thought they’d never see the Fat Lady sing:

1. Dress up. If there was ever a time and a place to dress up, it’s for the Opera. Wear high heels (you can always take them off during the show). Wear a tux. Wear all your finery. I may be of the next generation of Operaphiles, but I still believe in showing my due respect to the experience, the art, and the performers and performance. If someone can devote their entire life to this art, I can devote a Friday night to wearing heels and lip stick. You cannot be overdressed. I repeat, you cannot overdress for the Opera. Find amusement in wearing your prom dress for the 2nd time ever.

2. Choose your opera wisely. There are many different kinds of Operas. They all tell stories, some more popular (bloody, violent, comical, or tragic) than others, some in French, some in Italian, some in English (warning, even though the Opera is in English, you’ll still need the supertitles to understand). Some are 2 hours long, while some are a marathon 7 hours. Die Walkurie, the longest Opera I’ve ever been to (4 hours and 50 minutes with 2 intermissions), was extremely doable, because I knew exactly what I was getting myself into.

3. Bring snacks and even a bottle of wine. When I say snacks, I mean quiet snacks. Don’t show up with a bag full of cheerios and start crunching those 15 minutes into the performance. Bring a sandwich for half time (I mean, intermission).  Bring cash for Opera dogs, sandwiches, and wine. An opera seems a lot longer if you’re just focused on your dinner that’s not going to happen until 8:30 pm. You can open a bottle of wine in the Pavilion before the show, and enjoy it leisurely, or purchase cocktails during intermission. Fruit snacks are good (and quiet).  Please be conscientious and unwrap all plastic items before the curtain goes up though.

4. Take a chill pill (and I mean this figuratively). We live in a fast paced world. The opera has not caught up and has no desire to. It may take the characters half an hour to discuss something that seems trivial. Plots unfold at a snail’s pace. Plot is not the objective of each Act. Sure, there is plot, and often it is dramatic, but the point of the Opera is listening to the incredible elasticity of the voices being showcase accompanied with a full orchestra–lead by Music Director James Conlon, whom I’d be remiss not to mention his bad-ass-ness. On Sunday, a friend of mine timed how long it took an actor to walk from one side of the stage to the other. It was almost a whole minute. Patience is a virtue. At the end of each act, it’s expected for you to applaud; for a long time, for each singer, and the entire cast that performed that Act. Although the applauding cuts into your intermission, don’t be the jerk who rushes out without applauding. Just be patient, you’ll have enough time for a glass of wine, a bathroom break, and a snack.

5. Do your research. You’ll be glad you did. My tickets this weekend were $20. We sat in the Orchestra section. The people next to us paid $200. The opera isn’t out of your price range. Carpool, split parking, bring your own wine. Read up on the interpretation you’ll be seeing. For instance, Der Ring des Nibelungen is traditionally portrayed with Vikings. The LA Opera’s interpretation was somewhere between post modern Star Wars, and a Lord of the Rings trilogy. I heard people griping in the audience that it was not a traditional portrayal, but I was just fine–I knew what was coming. I read the entire plot online, learned the characters names. The LA Opera’s website walks you through all the costumes, the set, the singers, etc. All the time I spent learning enriched my experience.

Finally, here’s my last ditch effort for you to find enjoyment at the Opera. If you’ve done all of the above, and you still find yourself stuck in Opera hell, find one thing that makes you happy. For one unhappy friend of mine, it was the curtain. Maybe it’s Loge’s red high top Converse. Maybe you think Tosca is hot. Find one thing, and cling to it. Hopefully it’s not just the flask hidden in your bag. Opera isn’t for everyone, but I do believe everyone can have at least one happy experience with the LA Opera. Enjoy this piece of LA (and worldly) culture.

At the very least, your friends will be impressed and you’ll have a great pick-up line for a classy girl at the bar. 

Der Ring des Nibelungen marks the end of the LA Opera’s 24th season, but check out their 25th anniversary season here.

We’re a great city full of the arts, and that makes us just as unique as all our other outstanding worldly attributes—btw, I recommend any Opera that includes Placido Domingo.

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5 Responses to “Hey LA, Give your Local Opera Some Love”

  1. AJ says:

    Cannot disagree more with you on dressing up, especially wearing a tux. As if straight men need another reason not to go, but now they have to rent something you barely even see on men in Galas at the Met anymore.

    Opera is rousing theatre, that you have to feel comfortable to enjoy, but its tiara BS has created more problems for it than anything.


    Sam Reply:

    AJ, Lindsay did not state that you “have” to wear a tuxedo. She said that if you wanted to, this would be an appropriate place to do so and you would not be overdressed. You can get by with dress pants and a dress shirt, especially at a daytime performance; however, jeans are not appropriate even if they are comfortable. I have attended several operas at the Dorothy Chandler and my wife appreciates my employment of my better suits for the occasion, as I also appreciate her more elegant dresses.


  2. Elliot says:

    As a straight man, I respectfully disagree, AJ. I don’t see dressing up as an inconvenience at all. Granted, I choose to wear a t-shirt and jeans to the office, but I find it all the more fun to throw on a suit for special events because it’s a semi-rare occasion.

    If a tuxedo is too exuberant and not found in your closet, by all means grab a suit and tie. The author was suggesting dressing your dressiest, but she wasn’t saying it was mandatory. I think any effort towards looking nice is welcomed.

    That said, I’m still not a personal fan of opera, but that has nothing to do with the formal attire.


  3. Erik says:

    Aj I disagree with you I have no idea how dressing up would make you less of a straight man, believe me I enjoy my PBR, shooting in the desert and other manly activities but personally I feel no less masculine in a tux and enjoying the fine arts.
    My next trip to LA will include a night at the Opera.


  4. O. Bisogno Scotti says:

    I love the opera……and always wear my high heels!


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