Navigating the Atlanta Opera for beginners

Credit: Denny Wells Photography

Credit: Denny Wells Photography

Ah, the opera. Ladies in magnificently bedazzled gowns. Men in top hats and tails. A scene straight from Wharton's "Age of Innocence." You're curious about the opera, but afraid it's too rich for your blood, in a language you don't understand or full of ancient story lines (and music) you can't relate to at all. Wrong. The opera is no different from attending a musical or play. There is no secret handshake to get in the door. No chivalric honor code to follow. And in the 21st century, the opera is more accessible than ever with re-imagined classics and modern productions set to contemporary music. With the help of our friends at The Atlanta Opera, we've put together this handy-dandy guide for the opera newbie.

Choosing your first show

Each year, The Atlanta Opera puts on a variety of productions. Stories range from familiar pieces of classic literature to modern themes, such as exploring the effects of war on veterans. This is not your great granny's opera. Even in the classic productions, the costuming and set design may be updated to appeal to a modern audience. So how do you choose your first show? It's simply a matter of personal taste.

- Based on themes you are either familiar with or enjoy (i.e. drama, comedy, love story.) The Atlanta Opera's website gives detailed descriptions of each production. Choose what appeals to you.

- Select a well-known opera or story from literature in which you are familiar and can follow without being overwhelmed.

Try Romeo and Juliet, the last event this season. 

Romeo and Juliet by Gounod is based on Shakespeare's romantic tragedy. This classic issung in in French and subtitled.You may be familiar with another Gounod favorite, the popular "Ave Maria."

What's cool about Atlanta's opera company?

  • Photo booth at every show -- with or without props
  • Amazing people-watching
  • Casual, accessible atmosphere
  • Full bar open before the show and during intermission. Call ahead to have your drink waiting for you during intermission.
  • Dinner and a show all-inclusive: Mangia! is a chef-driven, pre-show meal with wine on the mezzanine.
  • Pre-show talks on each production
  • "The Discoveries Series" presents new works and re-imagined classics in contemporary settings with the latest technology to give opera a rock concert atmosphere.
  • Discounts offered to young patrons, students and groups of 10 or more
  • The Atlanta Opera serves nearly 60,000 people annually and brings $39 million to the metro Atlanta region each year.

Etiquette 411

Now that you've chosen your show, it's time to brush up on your opera etiquette.

  • Most opera is performed in 3-4 acts and lasts about 2.5 hours with a 15-20-minute intermission.
  • Opera attire can range from floor-length gowns to skinny jeans. Most people fall somewhere in between with slacks or a simple dress. Anything goes at the opera as long as you're comfortable.
  • Tickets range from $26 to $100+.
  • When you hear the bell, that means take your seat.
  • Supertitles (even for English) will appear ABOVE the stage and will be easy to read. No opera glasses required.
  • The program is a great guide for learning more about the performers, the composer and the opera itself.
  • Clapping is encouraged: as the conductor comes out, everyone else is clapping, at the end of an act, during curtain call.
  • Standing ovations are always welcome at curtain call.
  • Talking during any part of the production is a no-no
  • Turn off your phone.
  • No pictures or video permitted during the performance.
  • There are no bad seats at the Cobb Energy Center. The most expensive seats may not always be the best seats in the house.
  • Just fake it till you make it, relax with a cocktail beforehand and take it all in. The opera is more than a performance, it's an experience.

Sound like a pro

  • Aria: Italian for "air." In opera, it's a musically accompanied melody sung by a main character
  • Baritone: Male singer with a vocal range between bass and tenor
  • Bass: Male singer with the lowest vocal range
  • Soprano: Female singer with the highest vocal range
  • Alto: Female singer with the lowest female vocal range
  • Tenor: Male singer with the highest male vocal range
  • Libretto: The opera text or words set to music
  • Bravo: Italian for "clever" or "good." Exclaimed during curtain call and changes with performers.
  • Bravo (Brah-voh) to a single male performer
  • Brava (Brah-vah) to a single female performer
  • Bravi (Brah-vee) to a mixed group of male and female performers
  • Brave (Brah-vay) to an all-female group of performers

Make a date night out of it and dine at one of these restaurants near the Cobb Energy Centre.