Opera for beginners

For many, the world of opera is a mystery, often viewed as old fashioned, boring and incomprehensible. These stereotypes are absolutely not true. Opera can be beautiful and exciting, with moving stories and complex, funny, lovable characters. Try something new and borrow some recommended titles from our opera collection to expand your horizons. 

Here are several operas best suited for first-time opera viewers. These works are some of the most well known and cherished operas of all time and can generally be appreciated and enjoyed by opera beginners as well as seasoned opera lovers. Take a chance and enjoy the experience! 

1. Il Barbiere di Siliglia by Gioachino Rossini

This Italian opera, also known in English as The Barber of Seville, is Rossini’s most popular opera. Although it is the longest operas of my selections, with an approximate running time of 3 hours, it is well worth sparing a few hours to watch. It is a comic opera, truly very funny, about Count Almaviva’s quest for Rosina’s love despite her being the ward of Bartolo, who plans to marry her for himself and keep her dowry once she is of age. This opera is full of love, deceit, disguises and magnificent music that will keep you laughing and engaged throughout each act. You can find copies at the library in both DVD and CD format.  

2. Carmen by Georges Bizet 

Carmen, a French opera, is probably one of the most popular Western operas of all time. It is  characterized by memorable music and widely recognizable songs, which even an opera novice might identify. The opera takes place in Seville, Spain and tells the story of the downfall of Don Jos, who is seduced by the captivating gypsy Carmen and discards his honor in order to pursue her. Carmen later falls in love with another man and jealousy arises, securing both Carmen’s and Don Jos’s fate. There are several performances of this opera available at the library in both DVD and CD format.

3. Die Zauberflte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Also known as The Magic Flute, this is a German opera with both sung and spoken dialogue. This is a more fantastical opera about Prince Tamino, who is ordered by the Queen of the Night to rescue her daughter, Pamina. Tamino immediately falls in love after seeing her picture and is promised her hand if he finds her. The search for Pamina ensues as Prince Tamino, with his newfound friend Papageno, begin their quest. Full of fairy tale-esque characters and appropriate for any age, The Magic Flute will not disappoint. This opera is also available in both DVD and CD format. 

Want to venture further into the world of opera? There are several other opportunities to catch live opera performances without traveling an hour or more or paying an arm and a leg for the experience. The Metropolitan Opera is now broadcasting many of their performances live in HD at select theaters, several of which are in the area. You can find out more about the live broadcasts here. The Princeton Festival is also another great option that takes place every summer right in our backyard. This summer they will be performing Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (June 6-28) along with other great performances. Westminster Choir College also puts on many performaces right here in Princeton, so I would urge you to periodically check their performance calendar for not only inexpensive and affecting performances. Pick an opera from this sampling of the many performances in our area this summer.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Allen Sheffield

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