What to Expect
What to Expect from an Opera Wilmington Event (FAQ)
Opera Wilmington’s aim is to offer local opera performances that are affordable and accessible to a wide audience. Our productions always attract folks who are new to opera, and who may have questions before deciding to take the plunge and attend a performance. Here’s an unscientific sample of FAQs and our answers:
Aren’t operas performed in a foreign language? How will I understand the plot and the songs?
Lucky you! We live in the age of supertitles, so when an opera is performed in another language, you can read a translation of the dialogue and arias on a screen above the stage. There is also an act-by-act plot synopsis in the program to give you the big picture.
That said, it’s always a good idea to go online before the performance and read about work you’re about to see, especially about the storyline, so you can sit back and enjoy the performance as the plot unfolds.
Isn’t opera just for rich folks?
Here’s how our own board member, Dr. Jerome Nolan, answers that question:
“If you asked me that a couple of hundred years ago, I might have said yes. When opera houses first appeared in the U.S., upwardly mobile wives did drag their tycoon husbands to the opera to be seen. Perhaps the husbands would have rather stayed home and read Value Line. But the support was necessary – as it is today – to help cover the cost for those of us less fortunate. In our town we can see excellent productions by Opera Wilmington (such as this past summer’s well-known Carmen) at affordable prices.
‘It’s true that for a good seat at a major opera house you have to hit the piggy bank. But have you checked the prices at Disney World lately? Or a pro football game? A treat is a treat!
“Another economical way to see opera here is through the Metropolitan Opera’s ‘Live in HD’ broadcasts. These can be seen in local theaters for not much more than the price of a movie and are an excellent way to get one’s feet wet in opera.”
Do I have to dress up to attend an opera?
Traditionally, opera-goers (especially those who wanted to be noticed) wore their best finery to performances. At any performance today, whether in New York or in Wilmington, you’ll see anything from formal attire to blue jeans.
What was the very first opera?
The first opera, Dafne, was written by an Italian named Jacopo Peri and performed in 1597. The music was subsequently lost. Peri, however, soon teamed up with another composer, Giulio Caccini, to write Euridice, an opera recounting the story of Orpheus and Euridice. Clearly, in the early days of opera, mythical subjects were popular.
The music for Euridice has survived, maybe because it had its premiere at a pretty swell gathering: the 1600 wedding of French King Henry IV and Marie de Medici.
So, after that opera as an art form gained popularity?
It did! Two traditions developed: opera seria, or stately, formal and dignified pieces to cater to the tastes (and the egos!) of the royalty who sponsored them, and opera buffa, or comedies.
In the Baroque era (1600–1750), opera was a true showcase of the visual and performing arts, with lavish sets, costumes and ballet segments. Women’s parts were often sung by castrati: male singers castrated as boy sopranos to preserve their pure upper ranges. Those who survived the operation and developed their voices successfully became the stars of 17th and 18th century opera.
And no, castration of boy sopranos is no longer practiced.
In the classical period (1750-1830), the musical forms became simplified and opera subjects became more varied and less mythology-obsessed. Some, like Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, even challenged the protocols of the class system by having servants outwit their aristocratic employers. Imagine!
The Romantic era (1830–1900) ushered in grand opera, whose works were bigger, louder and longer than earlier operas. Perhaps the best example is Verdi’s Aida, featuring not only an extensive cast but live animals – even elephants – in its grand march scene! (Aren’t you glad you weren’t in that cleanup detail!)
Richard Wagner dominated the late Romantic period with his vast (and really long!) operas often based on Germanic lore. From his depictions of those mythological characters, such as Tannhauser and Die Valkyrie, comes the opera stereotype of the hefty, horn-helmeted soprano aiming her aria at the upper balcony.
Since the early 1900s, opera composers have sometimes drawn their subjects from current events or politics. One example is John Adams’ Nixon in China, based on the U.S. president’s historic visit to China to meet Chairman Mao in 1972.