10 things you should know if you’re new to opera…

5 March 2021

…Or ‘the truth about opera’ – here at Welsh National Opera we want to dispel some of the myths and misconceptions you may have come across. Read on to demystify our art form:

1. Just like films, operas come in different styles, languages and lengths, with different subject matter and plotlines (love, laughter and loss are recurring themes)

2. The stories are likely to be familiar – many are based on myths, legends, poems, plays, novels, even historical events – eg the legend of Tristan and Isolde; the plays of Shakespeare; the tale of Peter Pan; the experiences of the First World War; the list goes on. The music is also recognisable from ads, tv and films

3. While it is one of the oldest art forms (originating at the start of the 17th century and with one of the earliest operas, Monteverdi’s Orfeo, 1607, still performed today), newer operas are also hugely popular, continuing to attract people from all walks of life to write, take part in or just enjoy

4. Many Hollywood, fashion and other art world names have been involved in opera – think Anthony Minghella’s Madam Butterfly for ENO and New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Viktor & Rolf and Christian Lacroix have designed costumes for opera productions. Where the Wild Things Are writer, Maurice Sendak, has designed sets – including an opera version of his most famous book. David Hockney, Marc Chagall and Salvador Dali also designed sets. Even Kanye West wrote and put on his own opera in 2019

5. Production designs can be absolutely mind-blowing, stunning, opulent, out-of-this-world and even down-right bonkers. They are exhibition-worthy in their own right: from designers such as John Mcfarlane (who worked with WNO on productions including The Queen of Spades and Hansel & Gretel) having solo shows in art galleries; to the larger exhibitions on the craft of set design at national museums

6. Celebrity fans of opera include diverse types such as Freddie Mercury, Stephen Fry, Patti Smith, Bradley Walsh, Jessica Chastain, Novak Djokovic and Crystal Palace Manager Roy Hodgson.. 

7. Operas these days can, and are (pandemic allowing), put on in various forms, from condensed productions in small theatres upstairs in pubs, to digital versions screened in your local cinema, to venues in towns and cities nationwide hosting touring companies such as WNO, and, of course, there are the grand summer outdoor Festivals

8. To make understanding opera easier, WNO produces programmes that contain related information alongside the artists biographies and a synopsis of the plot. We also hold free pre-performance talks to explain more about the background of the opera you are about to see

9. On top of all that, we provide surtitles in English (and Welsh in our Welsh venues). These provide a translation above the stage of what is being sung – think a live action version of the subtitles you can get on your tv

10. You will come away with that feeling that you’ve been transported elsewhere; the kind of feeling where your mind whirls around remembering the different parts and how they relate to each other. You cannot stop thinking about what you’ve seen, no matter what type of opera it was: joyous, funny, tragic; you will have been carried away into that world. What’s to stop you coming again?