10 Great Starter Operas

There are thousands of great operas to experience, but figuring out where to begin can be a little intimidating. However, opera newbies might be surprised to learn that they’re more familiar with opera than they think. Ever seen an episode of Looney Tunes or Tom and Jerry? Many television shows, Broadway productions and even films are based on or inspired by some of the most popular operas to ever hit the stage.

Here’s a list of ten operas that would be great for any opera newbie to check out, most of which can be seen at LA Opera this season.

Moby-Dick – It’s a classic read and will be a classic opera performance for any newbie to watch. Sung in English, Moby-Dick is easier to follow musically and newbies will also be wowed by set designer Robert Brill’s creations, which bring the high seas to life on stage. Read more about a unique stage prop called a cyc, and the Moby-Dick ship set here.

La Boheme – For the Broadway junkies out there, this is the opera that sparked the musical Rent. It also served as the inspiration for Moulin Rouge (along with La Traviata) making the plot familiar and easy to follow for first-timers.

Aida – The elaborate costumes and set design give any opera newbie enough incentive to watch this beautiful opera. The story takes place in Egypt and focuses around the enslaved Ethiopian princess, Aida. The large pyramid sets and Egyptian attire, much like Pagliacci, show how much planning and work goes into making one of these shows come to life.

Ana María Martínez as Cio-Cio-San in Santa Fe Opera's Madama Butterfly

Ana María Martínez as Cio-Cio-San in Santa Fe Opera’s Madama Butterfly

Madame ButterflyMadame Butterfly is a romantic tragedy with an easy to follow story line and gorgeous music. The set is simple, beautiful and elegant and is sure to impress anyone who sees.

The Barber of Seville – Opera fan or not, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of The Barber of Seville. With famous tunes (check out this overture) and a few good laughs, it’s sure to be a lively performance and a great show for opera newbies.

CarmenHabanera, anyone? If a wild gypsy girl, cigars, knife fights, and smuggling sound like an exciting time, this is the opera for you. On top of all the drama, Carmen is one of the world’s most performed operas and you’ve doubtless heard the music before.

The cast of Carmen (2013)

The cast of Carmen (2013)

The Magic Flute The Magic Flute is set to hit LA Opera’s stage in February 2016 and it’s a stunning show. With miraculous music composed by Mozart, it’s a great show to see, especially for newbies.

Don Giovanni – It’s one of the most performed operas in the world and is also hailed as one of the greatest ever, if not the greatest. Not to mention Mozart wrote the score, which continually shifts between comic and tragic.

Gianni Schicchi – With a run time of about an hour, Gianni Schicchi is a fast-paced, one-act comedy. Its lively score continuously illustrates the action onstage, making it a perfect introduction into the world of Puccini (and opera in general).

Pagliacci – In our season-opening production (presented in tandem with Gianni Schicchi), the elaborate sets, the costumes, the colors, the lively characters and a live donkey gave audience member’s eyes and mind something to enjoy constantly. It was impressive to watch and made everyone aware of all the hard work that goes into making a show come to life.

Pagliacci (2015); Photo: Craig T. Mathew

The cast of Pagliacci (2015)

It would be difficult to say that one opera in particular can define opera as a whole and bring everything to the table. It’s important to keep an open mind and remember that each one is different. Just like watching a movie or reading a book, there will be operas that you absolutely love and operas that just aren’t your cup of tea. What’s important is attending and realizing that opera is so much more than what you think it is.

For more information about our current season, check out our website. Many of the opera’s listed above are featured this season!

Audrey Register is a journalism and public relations major at Belmont University, graduating in May of 2016. Originally from North Carolina, she is currently an intern at LA Opera and also an opera newbie.

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