What Opera Should I See First? Here’s a list.

You’ve read the rave reviews, watched the season trailer, and seen your friends’ Instagrams at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Now, you want to experience a night at the opera. The only problem is – there are a lot of choices and you don’t know which opera to see first.

We’re here to help. Below are a few great starter operas, some of which are coming to LA Opera this season.


Ana María Martínez as Carmen; Photo: Lynn Lane, courtesy of Houston Grand Opera

Ana María Martínez as the title character in Carmen; Photo: Lynn Lane, courtesy of Houston Grand Opera

There’s a reason why everybody loves Carmen. It’s about an independent, wild, and fierce woman from the south of Spain, who has no shortage of admirers. This realistic, action-packed story has become one of the most popular operas in the world. That’s because of its Spanish flair, grand music, and tragic love triangle. Also, whether you’re a Westworld fan or you like The Muppets, we know you’ve heard the music from Carmen before (“Habanera”).

You’re already familiar with Carmen, so why not make it your first opera experience this September?


A scene from Washington National Opera's Nabucco (2012); Photo: Scott Suchman

A scene from Washington National Opera’s Nabucco (2012); Photo: Scott Suchman

If gorgeously idealized sets, royal family power scheming, complex emotions, and surprise endings are your cup of tea, then Nabucco might be the opera for you.

Here’s the story: As an aging king descends into madness, his bloodthirsty daughter begins a reign of terror, leaving a defenseless populace to battle for freedom from their oppressors.

Intense, right?

Nabucco makes a great first opera, because it’s grand opera at its grandest. It has giant sets, amazing singing, and an iconic chorus you’ve probably heard before without knowing where it was from. It’s deeply emotional and will be sure to grab every bit of your attention!


George Gagnidze as the title character in Rigoletto (2010); Photo: Robert Millard

George Gagnidze as the title character in Rigoletto (2010); Photo: Robert Millard

Not for the fainthearted, Rigoletto is a deeply-felt work about the love a father has for his daughter and the lengths he takes to protect her from different evils. Set in the Renaissance era, it includes the famous tune La donna è mobile, so get ready to sing along because even opera newbies are sure to recognize this one! Rigoletto has it all – high drama, amazing singing to recognizable tunes, and eye-catching visuals. That’s what makes it a great starter opera.


La Bohème (2016); Photo: Ken Howard

La Bohème (2016); Photo: Ken Howard

A romance for the ages, La Bohème is sure to tug at your heartstrings every step of the way. A perfect date-night opera, it’s about a group of fun-loving young bohemians living in Paris, looking for love and finding heartbreak along the way.

One of the most relatable operas (looking at you dreamers out there), it’s sure to give you an emotional experience. Everything about La Bohème is enticing as a first opera. Besides being a classic and timeless fan favorite, it also has gorgeous music and stage visuals. Fun fact: La Bohème was the direct inspiration for the popular musical Rent.


title character in Madame Butterfly (2016); Photo: Ken Howard

Ana María Martínez as the title character in Madame Butterfly (2016); Photo: Ken Howard

Madame Butterfly is the tragic love story of an ill-fated marriage of a dashing American naval officer and a Japanese geisha. As an audience member, you can’t help but root for the heroine, even though you know that her love will ultimately be her demise. This is a great first time opera, because of the atmospheric staging, passionate music and endlessly fascinating characters. The heroine also sings one of the most emotional arias of them all. Check it out here.

To learn more about our upcoming 2017/18 season and to purchase tickets to your first opera, click here.

Akriti Suri is a rising senior at Loyola Marymount University studying Marketing and Business Law. She is originally from Sacramento, California and is a summer intern at the LA Opera.

LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.
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