The first time I went to an opera I was 19 years old. It saw Mozart’s Don Giovanni and I was hooked. I loved all of it. I loved the music, the story, and the stage production. Hell, I loved the title character, no matter the heights of his villainy (or libido). When I moved to Philadelphia I was pleased to discover that we have at least 4 different ways to experience the opera in our city.
If you have never been to the opera, than you may be nervous. That is totally ok. On its surface it seems pretentious, complicated, and utterly inaccessible. Admittedly, not all operas are the same. For someone new to opera I would suggest something like Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, rather than Wagner’s The Valkyrie. No matter which opera you start with, go in with an open mind.
I watch a lot of opera, but do I have a problem with the opera audience. The average age at any given performance is about 82. I want, no I need, more young people to come and enjoy the opera. I fear in 15 years I’ll be the only one there. The opera is easy to enjoy, not uptight or formal, and fun. You do not need any experience to go to it and can leave your tuxedo at home.
In the movie The Quartet, Tom Courtenay’s character says, “It was people just like who went to opera, with casual clothes, they took food, they took alcohol, and they threw things. Anyway that was a long time ago. Then rich people took over the world of opera, with their fancy dress, and they took the soul out of it. They made it something that it is not.” I love the quote, because it is tells tale of an opera community that I want to return.
How can you help bring the opera community back to its roots? Start going to it as soon as possible. Where does one see the opera in Philadelphia? We have plenty of options:
This is our city’s opera and it performs in the Academy of Music on Broad Street. They produce 5 operas a year and occasionally do something extra in the off-season. They worked with the Bearded Ladies Cabaret in the summer of 2014.
One of the great things about Opera Philadelphia is that it is willing to try new things. They always show the opening night for free at Independence mall. Last year, they hosted a social media night, where they sat a few audience members together to live tweet the opera. There were mixed reviews of the experience, but I really appreciate the opera attempting to reach out to new audiences.
Curtis Opera Theatre
According to the website, the Curtis Opera Theatre works with established professional directors and designers to create fresh interpretations of standard repertoire and contemporary works.
This is student opera, but do not let that dissuade you from going to it. These are some of the most polished opera students in the United States and will be on the big stages in a few years. Here you can watch them before they are cool. You get to see amazing performers in a far more intimate setting than a formal opera house could provide. I have seen tickets go for as little as $5.
The Academy of Vocal Arts
According to their website, The Academy of Vocal Arts is a school dedicated to providing free higher education to aspiring opera singers.
The AVA produces 3 fully staged operas every year. One of the nice parts about the AVA is that their shows happen in the city and in the suburbs. If you are under 30, you can get a ticket for $25. That is a steal, so check it out. One of the most famous opera singers in the world, Joyce DiDonato, studied here.
The Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD
The Metropolitan (known as The Met, by the way) Opera is a career-defining venue for any performer. You do not need go to NYC to attend. The Met streams many of their performances to movie theaters all over the country.
This is a great way to see the opera. Firstly, The view of the stage is better than any seat in the house. Secondly, movie theater seats are way more comfortable than Met seats. Trust me on this one.
Check out the schedule on their site. The Met’s most recent opera is streams on Saturday afternoon with an encore on Wednesday evening. They stream in 2 theaters in Philadelphia:
University City Penn 6. 4012 Walnut Street , Philadelphia, PA 19104
UA Riverview, 1400 S Christopher Columbus Blvd, Philadelphia, PA 19147
I have never been to this, but it’s opera music without the the theatrics. The opera is shown in a concert format. I am told it is quite intimate, so you get an up close and personal exposure to these artists.