How to prepare for your first Italian Opera experience

Tips for enjoying the Opera

Italy: the birthplace of ‘Bel Canto’ and where most people first learn to fall in love with the wonderful world of Opera. Other countries have tried to follow in its steps but none managed quite successfully. Rossini said it best when he claimed that the three most essential ingredients of Italian opera are “Voice, voice and voice”. The scripts are indeed the most arduous, lending Opera singers plenty of room to showcase their virtuoso abilities. 

To many, however, Opera still seems a bit daunting, but it shouldn’t be really. All you need is a primer and this post aims to be one!

Keep reading for the essential things you need to learn before your first Italian Opera experience.

Basic Opera terms

Opera has its own vocabulary, with words like ‘Aria’, a solo song, often the most famous part of an Opera or ‘libretto’, the lyrics. There are also different types of singers, ‘baritono’, ‘tenore’ and ‘basso’ for men, ‘soprano’ and ‘contralto’ for women.

The most famous opera composers

  • Gioachino Rossini (1792 – 1868), famous for its lively Opera “Barber of Seville”. You’ll have heard Figaro’s Aria for sure! 
  • Gaetano Donizetti (1797 – 1848), who wrote numerous Operas, including “L’elisir d’amore” 
  • Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901), probably the most famous Italian composer, a true master of the Operatic arts. He gifted us with magnificent Operas like “Rigoletto” and “La Traviata”.
  • And then two composers from Tuscany, Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924), famous for its “Tosca”, “La bohème”, “Madama Butterfly” and Pietro Mascagni (1863 – 1945), with the beautiful “Cavalleria Rusticana”.
  • Ruggero Leoncavallo (1857 – 1919), who wrote “I Pagliacci”
  • Vincenzo Bellini (1801 – 1835), who wrote “Norma” 

Day Trip Pisa & LuccaThe most famous operas

  • La Traviata

A ‘fallen woman’, Violetta, who is forced to choose between love and honor. Ultimately, she proves her goodness by sacrificing her own happiness for that of a woman she does not know. 

  • Tosca

A new kind of opera for the time – one that was fast moving, realistic and violent, as well as deliberately shocking, with political nuances.

  • La Bohème

A tragic story between young, poor lovers in Paris.

  • Rigoletto

Set in Ducal Mantua and based on Victor Hugo’s “Le roi s’amuse”. 

Practical tips

Familiarising yourself with the ‘libretto’ (the lyrics) beforehand is a great way to understand the plot and what’s going on while attending an Opera. You may even want to google some of the most famous arias. 

There are a lot of stereotypes about opera that don’t actually match reality, you don’t need to know Italian, be uber-rich or an intellectual. Opera is so much more than details, it’s about enjoying the whole experience, the costumes, the scenes and let yourself get lost in the music and singing. Anyone can enjoy the Opera, trust me!

Having said that, if the thought of sitting through 3-4 hours of Opera at a theater puts you off, may we suggest you get started with a little taster? Our cooking class is the perfect way to get acquainted with Opera in the comfort of a countryside setting, alongside your favorite people and with lots of delicious food and wine. As you end your meal, made from the things you helped cooking, a singer accompanied by a musician will sing some of the most famous arias Italian Operas can offer. Contact us directly to learn more.

Cooking class & Opera