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September 9, 2013 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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Beginner’s Guide to Opera

Next week, New Zealand Opera brings The Flying Dutchman by Richard Wagner to the St James Theatre, so the time is nigh to get seriously cultured. To help you out, you opera virgin, here’s a beginner’s guide to opera:

1. Get your ticket. Tickets to the opera can be seriously expensive, like more-than-your-week’s-rent expensive, but you can get $25 under-25 tickets by going to the Box Office (at the St James) from 10 am on the performance day. There are a limited number, and ID is required.

2. Storyline. Operas are more likely than not to be in a foreign language, but trust me, it sounds way sexier to sing about your tragic love in Italian than in English. However, this means that it’s a good idea to get to know what’s going to happen in your opera before you go, as a completely sung story can sometimes take a little artistic licence at the expense of a fluid storyline. The Flying Dutchman is loosely about a doomed sea captain who must sail endlessly until true love breaks the spell. Every seven years, he is allowed ashore to try to find her. Fortunately, one day, Senta, a young Norwegian girl, invites a ship’s captain ashore. Will she realise his identity? Will there be love? FYI, opera pretty much always involve some love and some brooding; it’s just par for the course.

3. Performance. There is a lot of suspended reality that happens in opera, so for our generation raised on films, it can be hard to get into. All of the characters will look much older than they are meant to, because it’s really hard to be a good opera singer and it takes lots of training. They will sing about the same issues for a long time, which is actually great because you need time to look at the subtitles, listen to the music, take in the beautiful costumes and sets and generally soak up the beautiful atmosphere. Also, opera can be funny; these old composers understood the importance of comic relief as well as anyone.

4. Attire. As the standard ticket prices would suggest, opera can be a wee bit posh. Not like so posh that you need to whip out your Year 13 ball dress, but look smart. Comb your hair. Boys would be better to wear a shirt, and sneakers just really aren’t appropriate.

5. Etiquette. Along with attire, there is a level of formality at the opera. Be on time (they can be really tough on latecomers), turn your cellphone off—like seriously off, not on silent, BUT OFF. There is never any whooping or cheering at opera but clapping only, and the occasional standing ovation if the performance is totes amaze. Performances can be longer than your average stage show, so bring a drink bottle, tissues, and snacks (just not ones in crinkly wrappings).

Go forth and be culturally enriched.

The Flying Dutchman by Richard Wagner, performed by NZ Opera. St James Theatre 14–21 September. For more information go to

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