Recommend me a first opera

I’ve never listened to opera, but I would like to give it a try. I’d prefer something traditional and it certainly doesn’t have to be in English.

Can someone please recommend a good ‘first opera’?

Thanks in advance!

Whoa - don’t “listen”. Attend. Opera isn’t really for “listening”, although plenty of people do it - it’s a multimedia experience. For one thing, you’ll have a way better idea of what’s going on if you see it on stage.

I’d suggest one of the big ones, just for cultural literature - Figaro, Traviata, one of the famous ones.

Go see a performance of “Aida.” Especially if they have elephants!

Otherwise, see “Carmen.”

Especially if you can get to a performance of the Chicago Lyric…

La Bohème, La Traviata, Carmen or Barber of Seville. That’s three comedies and a tragedy to choose between. For the record, Barber of Seville was the first opera I saw live, and it was much more powerful than any of the radio broadcasts I’d previously heard.

Second vote for Carmen. Also the Magic Flute, La Boheme, Turandot and Gianni Schicchi (Il Trittico).

I agree with everyone else and would add the best of Mozart’s operas to the list: The Marriage of Figaro, Cosí Fan Tutti, Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute. The first three are in Italian and the libretti were written by a guy named Lorenzo da Ponte, who really knew what he was doing. The last one has an awful German libretto, but the music is so wonderful it really doesn’t matter.

I think you want to switch that around…

Gah!!! Did I mention I’m incredibly hungover today?

Three tragedies and a comedy was what I said out loud…

I’d go with La Boheme. It was my first, and I loved it. Still do.

L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love) by Gaetano Donizetti in a very tuneful comedy in Italian.

Um, Tommy?

Another vote for Marriage of Figaro and Barber of Seville. We saw them live (with super titles in English) and were pleasantly surprised how funny they are.

I’d recommend *Carmen *first, *Rigoletto *second and *Aïda *third. And definitely a live performance. Listening to an opera you’ve never seen is like listening to a movie.

La Boheme or Carmen.

Tommy’s pretty good too, but it’s hard to find a performance these days.


Carmen is the traditional choice (you’ll recognize a lot of the music, and not just from Looney Tunes), but Marriage of Figaro is the one that got me thinking “Ah, opera isn’t just for pretentious assholes.” Fun plot, and some ridiculously gorgeous music.

I’d vote for The Magic Flute–it was my first, and the music is nothing short of transcendantly beautiful. Couldn’t tell you much about the plot–it was performed in Russian, but it didn’t much matter. I was hooked from the first notes. Be prepared for Papageno to steal the show–he’s a much more entertaining character than Prince Tamino, even if he doesn’t pass a giant goblet of wine around the audience. :slight_smile:

I’d put a cautiously qualified vote against The Marriage of Figaro. Again, I saw it performed in Russian. It’s heavy on recitativi, a sort of slightly sing-song dialogue accompanied by a keyboard instrument (harpsichord, when I saw it). Since the dialogue didn’t mean much to me, I was left at sea for much of the production. That said, if it’s presented in a language you speak, or with supertitles, you might very well have a better experience. I’ve not written it off for the future, but I’ll approach it with caution.

Your first opera should be seen live, at a good opera company. I’m just guessing based on your location, but there seem to be several opera companies in Chicago, and the Lyric Opera seems to have some good shows coming up- Damnation of Faust and Marriage of Figaro are playing in March, either of which would probably be a good choice.

Before you go, get a copy of the CD at the library, and listen to it attentively two or three times while reading the translated lyrics which are usually included in the box with the CDs, so you’re more familiar with the plot and the music.

Then go, and make a good night of it. Bring someone you like. Dress up, have a good dinner. Bring a pair of binoculars so you can see the details better if you end up in the back, which you probably will since good seats are expensive.

Opera is the music, but it’s also the acting, the sets, the sense of occasion… you lose a lot by watching it on video.

If you don’t want to invest in going to see a live opera, you might be interested in the New York Metropolitan Opera’s programwhere they broadcast operas live in HD to movie theaters around the world. I’ve seen a bunch of them, and the experience is better than seeing a low-end live opera in a hall. Tickets are about $22, but the shows sell out so you should get the tix in advance. Be prepared for an audience of old people, as in my area, senior centers send loaded busses. You’ll learn about opera, as they so interviews with cast and crew during set changes.

It’s unfortunate that you missed Carmen. I’ve told a bunch of people that if I were trying to get a guy into opera, that would be the one. It’s hot, really hot.

Of the two remaining HD operas, there is Hamlet and Armida. I don’t know the music for either, but Renee Fleming is singing Armida. She is one of the most highly regarded lyric sopranos out there, and she can act. It’s not until May, though.

If you choose to get a CD instead, I’ll through in my vote *against *Aida. I fell asleep, the guy next to me fell asleep, my friend fell asleep. Maybe the theater was too hot, and maybe the production was bad (no elephants!), but that’s what happened.

Tosca, La Boheme, and Carmen would be my recommendations of what I’ve seen already. Marriage of Figaro if you want a comedy/farce of the Shakespearian crossdressing kind (the opera is not Shakepearian, but it seems like every one of his comedies has a least one crossdresser)

Find a copy of Aria. Robert Altman, Bruce Beresford, Bill Bryden, Jean-Luc Godard, Derek Jarman, Franc Roddam, Nicolas Roeg, Ken Russell, Charles Sturridge and Julien Temple make MTV like film clips for operatic arias. Wonderful stuff.

I highly recommend the recent Dessay/Florez production of Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment. The singing was amazing, the production was exciting and engaging, and I think the story would be easy to follow for someone who was new to opera. I thought that this production also handled the comedy extremely well. “The Daughter of the Regiment” may not be as famous as Aida or The Barber of Seville, but it still has a lot of significance in the operatic world-- after all, this was the opera that launched Pavarotti to operatic fame and fortune with his nine high C’s!