A Beginner's Guide to: The Opera

Posted: March 7, 2014


In the first of a new series, we’ll be going to events and places we’ve never been before and reporting back. Sometimes making a fool of ourselves so you don’t have to. This week, LDN Card Editor Andy Burrows went to see La Boheme at the Royal Albert Hall.

Right, the opera. That’s something I do. Well here goes. My top tips for the beginner.

Choose the Right Venue

I hit this one out of the park. You don’t get much better than the Royal Albert Hall. Running towards it (the walk from South Ken always takes longer than you think), just the sight of the beautiful round building gets you in the mood for something cultural. Inside it is all gold leaf and royal red paint- in short, exactly where you would expect an opera to be found.


Opera Singers are Pretty Good at Singing

I had kind of guessed this before I went last night, but I still wasn’t quite prepared for the sheer perfection of the sound that can come out of some people’s mouths. They can quickly stammer out conversations or hold notes for days, all at the perfect pitch, and loud enough for an entire audience to hear them.


It is Surtitles, NOT Subtitles

With the entire thing being in Italian, venues usually thankfully put up the translation on screens around the audience. However, don’t call them subtitles, for the opera it is surtitles. Don’t know why- probably just to confuse people is my guess.


The Plot is Largely Irrelevant

I’m not in the habit of putting spoilers into my reviews. However, I’m going to make an exception to make a point. The entire plot of La Boheme is this: two couples fall in love, then the women kind of fall out of love with the men, then one woman’s death brings them all closer again. That is it. I’m not even leaving any detail out really.

But, having such a simplified story works perfectly in opera. Ultimately, you’re there for the music. You want to sit back and enjoy the wonder of the singers, relaxed in the knowledge that you don’t need to concentrate too much on any convoluted plot.   


Just Wait for the Crescendo

You’ve never experienced anything quite like an opera crescendo. In La Boheme, scenes tend to start with a few characters talking to each other and one-by-one they will leave the stage until there are just a couple left. At this point the music invariably builds and builds to a massive crescendo. One scene in particular in the first Act was truly a spine tingling, eyes watering, hair standing moment. The two leads Rodolpho and Mimi have just fallen in love and want to sing it to the world.

The only way I can describe it is that it is a similar feeling to that rare moment in football when your team scores a massively important goal and your body doesn’t quite know how to react and you end up sort of wheezing and crying. Except at the opera they guarantee this every night.  


It’s Not all that Intimidating

These days the opera is seen as a preserve of the old, rich, upper classes. However, after my first experience I don’t think it should be. For example, most of La Boheme is about getting drunk and trying to have sex with women. Plus there are roller skating waiters. I think most people can relate to that no?

Add to that the basic plot and the subt…sorry surtitles and the opera is no more intimidating or out of reach than the cinema. Plus it doesn’t have to break the bank with a great little scheme called Access All Arias providing bargain tickets (£20) for the under-30s.

So there you have it. The opera isn’t actually all that scary, confusing, difficult to get into or expensive. Who knew eh?

La Boheme runs until Sunday 9th March and limited tickets are still available here.