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How to be an opera genius

You know what you should do? Plan a night at the opera.

It’s a special kind of classy — a centuries-old art form that’s like a play, classical music concert, and fashion show all rolled into one. Because, of course, “Opera is where a guy gets stabbed in the back and instead of dying, he sings.”

But if you’ve never gone, it might seem a bit overwhelming. Never fear. We’ve got everything you’ll need to know for a fancy night of adventurous fun at the Florida Grand Opera, even if your only point of reference for The Barber of Seville is Bugs Bunny.

Getting ready

First of all, find out what kind of experience you’d like to have. Like films or albums, operas come in different genres. There’s plenty of tragedy, comedy, or romance, and they’re not all classic pieces, either. There are modern operas, as well, though many classical and romantic-era comic operas are staples, which is why The Barber of Seville and Don Pasquale are the anchors for this season at the Florida Grand Opera.

While you don’t need to know every lyric, it’s always fun to psyche yourself up for a performance by watching some videos or putting on a Spotify playlist. Pump yourself up with the Brindisi from La Traviata, one of the most famous classic drinking songs ever written. Yes, it’s an ode to booze. Plenty of operas, especially prior to the 20th century, are about chronicling bad behavior, from infidelity to murder plots to heavy drinking. We have your attention now, don’t we?

Once your night at the opera approaches, get that outfit ready. This is the perfect excuse to dress up. Now, you shouldn’t dress like you’re going to the club, but you don’t need to wear a ball gown or full tuxedo, either. Unless you really want to class things up, of course. Black dress clothes are traditional, but this is Miami, so you can definitely flaunt a bit of color and shine. Think of going to the opera like going to a swanky party.

The big night

Know that you are expected to behave better than patrons did at the premiere of the opera you’re going to see. In the 19th century, when opera was the ultimate social activity for the bourgeoisie in Europe, the overture as played by the orchestra was simply a sign that people needed to take their seats. Audience members talked over the music, not paying attention to tunes that have become inextricably linked to popular culture. (William Tell Overture, anyone?) Nowadays, once the orchestra starts, silence is golden.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the singing. Unlike musicals, operas don’t usually feature any spoken dialog — it’s all singing, typically in a foreign language. Thankfully, you don’t have to worry about getting lost, as the Florida Grand Opera features projected translations in both English and Spanish. Think of it like watching an indie film with subtitles.

When it comes to the songs themselves, they tend to fall into categories, from arias, which are solos akin to monologues, to recitative sung dialogue intended to move along the plot and ensemble pieces sung by a chorus of often unnamed characters, which are akin to showstopping musical numbers. After all, where do you think American musical theatre took its inspiration?

Once you’re settled in, enjoy the spectacle. Let the music wash over you and relax. It’s almost a guarantee that you will find yourself both educated and entertained as a result of the experience.

Most operas are divided, much like plays, into acts, typically with an intermission, which is a nice time to possibly pick up a cocktail for that extra celebratory feel (or to match the booze-swilling characters in the opera). Just make sure you come back to stay for the full performance. Like with a concert, you don’t want to leave before the house lights come up and the last song is sung.

The afterparty

The great thing about opera, as many of its aficionados can tell you, is that after a wonderful show, it’s perfectly fine to call it a night. There is no need to gild the lily after a night at the opera — you get an evening of dressing up, high art, cocktails, and often a life-affirming emotional roller coaster. If you end up getting tickets to see Norma in January, it’s likely that “Casta Diva” will have you so choked up that going out dancing afterwards is an impossibility. Choked up, of course, in the most satisfying and cathartic way possible. That emotional connection is why opera has remained so popular over the centuries.

And as with many cultural experiences, the more folks you bring, the merrier. The more people you have to share your experience with, the more you can discuss what you saw afterwards. And then when you hear an aria out in the wide world somewhere, you can relive that special moment with your friends again and again.

Afterwards, the best thing you can do is talk up your night. Tell more of your friends, show them what you’ve learned, and increase your own personal opera crew. Let everyone else know what they’re missing in the glorious MIA cultural scene.