The Beginner's Guide to Opera

Jade Bates

New to the world of opera? Here are five of the best operas to see if you want to ignite your love of opera.

So, you’re ready to dip your toes into the intimidating world of opera, but you’re not quite sure where to start. We’re here to help. The first opera you see has the potential to make or break your potential love of opera. Watch the wrong one and you might get the wrong idea about what opera is all about. See the right one and you can open yourself up to a wonderful world of music, costume, and history.

Lucky for you, we at Marquee TV are on a mission to make the arts accessible for everyone and to demystify the world of performing arts. We’ve picked out the five best operas for every first-time opera-goer. 

Mozart’s le Nozze di Figaro or The Marriage of Figaro

Language: Italian

*Don’t worry about not speaking the language, every modern production of an opera has live subtitles which will help you follow the plot.

  • It’s funny!
  • The characters are relatable 
  • It’s performed frequently 

This groovy production from Glyndebourne re-imagines Figaro and the gang in the 1960s. 

You can’t go wrong with anything by Mozart for your first opera. Mozart was an opera genius and his productions are often easy to follow, recognizable, and fun. They are also performed frequently, so chances are, you’ll be able to find a Mozart production in an opera house near you. 

Part of a group of stories revolving around the jovial barber Figaro (you may recognize this character from The Barber of Seville), Le Nozze di Figaro takes place all in one exciting day around Figaro’s wedding to the countess’s maid Susanna. The count is trying to exercise his droit du seigneur, or his right to bed a servant girl on her wedding night, with Susanna, but Figaro and the gang have plans to foil his plot, and hilarity ensues. 

Le Nozze ( as it’s often nicknamed) is the perfect opera to see if you’re not sure if you’ll like opera or not. Many who see it as their first opera go on to become true opera fans.

Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte or The Magic Flute  

Language: German

  • Amazing characters 
  • Fun and intriguing storyline 
  • Recognizable music 

The Royal Opera House’s production of The Magic Flute is a true classic. You may even recognize the Queen of the Night’s costume as it has been used in productions all over the world.

If you like fantasy and adventure, this is the opera for you. This mystical story concerns the search for truth, reason, love, and enlightenment. The plot was inspired by Mozart’s interest in Freemasonry. The main character, Prince Tamino, has been sent by The Queen of The Night to rescue her daughter Pamina from Sarastro, the high priest. Tamino sets off with the lovable bird-catcher Papageno and they are given magical instruments to help them on their journey. 

Although confusing at times, this opera is always a crowd-pleaser and is full of recognizable arias, or solo songs, like the Queen of The Night Aria, which makes it an approachable opera for anyone.  

Bizet’s Carmen

Language: French 

  • Recognizable music 
  • Easy plot to follow 
  • Frequently performed

Carmen is all about the drama. This stunning production from Teatro alla Scala is packed with incredible cinematic shots that will immerse you in Bizet’s lush story. 

Often called the greatest opera of all time, you’ve probably heard of Carmen before. This opera is home to two easily recognizable pieces of music, the March of the Toreadors and Carmen’s Habanera. Bizet’s opera, follows the story of Carmen, the strong, independent, sexy, cigarette factory worker who seduces corporal Don José as a means of escaping a crime, grows bored of him and goes after the handsome bullfighter Escamillo, and eventually suffers the consequences of her actions.

This opera is popular for a reason. Bizet himself even thought his piece was a winner. When he was writing Carmen he said he had “absolute certainty of having found my path”. 

Puccini’s La Boheme

Language: Italian 

  • Romantic storyline
  • Atmospheric music 
  • Frequently performed

The Royal Opera House does opera right, and this production of La Boheme, set in the original 19th century, is as classic as it gets.

Ah la vie boheme! Puccini’s dramatic masterpiece follows the life of four struggling bohemians – a poet, a painter, a musician and a philosopher living together in Paris. One day a woman, Mimi, arrives and wins the heart of one of the bohemians, Rodolfo, and changes their lives forever. But, these struggling artists are soon faced with the harsh realities of life when Mimi falls tragically ill and their free-spirited, and underpaid, lifestyle can’t save her.

 This opera has had a massive impact on pop culture and the story was the inspiration behind Rent,  Moulin Rouge, AND Moonstruck! The music is atmospheric and beautiful. You will instantly be transported to the gritty streets of 19th-century Paris. If you romanticize French bistros, the life of an artist, and love love stories, then this is the perfect first opera to see.

Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci

Language: Italian

  • Dramatic 
  • Recognizable music 
  • Jaw-dropping final scene!

Two for the price of one! This double bill from Teatro alla Scala features Pagliacci and Cavalleria Rusticana two tragedies for the ages, starring Tenor José Cura.

Have you ever seen the image of Tenor Luciano Pavarotti dressed as a sad clown? That’s from this opera.

Pagliacci, often nicknamed ‘The Clown Opera’ begins with a clown coming to the stage and announcing that ”a clown is also a man, so a clown feels sorrow and pity just like a man”, and it only gets more dramatic from there. Constantly juxtaposing perception and reality, the opera follows a troupe of performers in Italy and their deadly love triangle. The craziest part is that the opera is based on a true story that the composer Ruggero Leoncavallo’s father had encountered in Naples. This opera has been popular from day one. 

A 1907 recording of the most famous song from Pagliacci, Vesti la giubba, was the first record in history to sell a million copies, and it’s remained popular ever since. So why not see what all the fuss is about and make Pagliacci your first opera? 

Regardless of which opera you decide will be your first you’ll be in for a treat! If you’re still a bit nervous about braving an opera in person you can watch these operas from the comfort of your own home on Marquee TV.  There’s no need to commit to watching the full opera, or to paying full opera prices, you’re free to preview each opera until you decide which one you like best.

 

Stream these productions and more

Join our community newsletter for the latest content and offers