If you are reading this page, hopefully that means you will be joining us soon for an opera. New friends are very important to OPERA San Antonio. We know it is important for people who are unfamiliar with opera to have a great experience and want to come back.
The questions below come from new attendees who have asked about what to expect at the opera. We offer some answers to these Frequently Asked Questions so that everyone will feel comfortable and somewhat familiar with what to expect, even if it is their first time. If there are other questions you think we should address, please email or Facebook your questions to us.
+ What do people wear at the opera?
Really you should dress in a way that is comfortable for you. Some people love dressing up and going out. If that is you, dress up, and you will not be the only one. Others like to be more casual. One thing you probably won’t see, though, is people in tuxedos. There is nothing unique about the dress of an opera audience today.
+ How are drinks handled at the opera?
There are refreshment stands in the lobbies which are open before the show and during the short intermissions. There is no service during the performance, because that distracts from the experience. But you can take drinks into the auditorium with you.
+ Is mine a good seat?
The short answer is yes. All the seats in the Tobin Center are good, even those in the highest balconies, because the acoustics funnel the sound even to the furthest rows. The most coveted seats are about half-way back in the middle, because the sound blends better as it gets away from the stage. Many people prefer the front rows of the balcony because the elevation allows them to see the action from a better angle..
+ How long is the opera?
Operas are performed with a total time of under three hours. Usually there are one or two intermissions, lasting no more than 15 or 20 minutes each. It is good to order drinks at the refreshment stands ahead of time and take drinks back to your seat, given the brief intermission.
+ Where do you park?
The Tobin Center offers valet parking for $25. There is also a Tobin Center high rise garage at 227 4th Street; the cost of parking is $10. There are other lots near the Tobin Center, most costing about $10 for an evening’s parking.
+ how can i study before i go?
If you want to get familiar with the opera ahead of time, we recommend reading the Wikipedia entries on the composer and the opera. OPERA San Antonio posts on its website a playlist of top moments from the opera with links to actual performances on YouTube, in case you would like to get familiar with the music beforehand.
Also, OPERA San Antonio offers a pre-performance talk one hour before the performance, lasting about half an hour. The regular presenter is Professor Kevin Salfen, Professor of Music at UIW. Dr. Salfen gives a great overview of the composer’s life, the plot and characters of the opera, and the distinctive music in the piece. The talk helps the audience feel very comfortable with what they are going to see.
+ how will i know what is going on if the opera is in a foreign LANGUAGE?
You don’t need to worry. There will be a highly visible screen with “supertitles” which give a complete running translation of the words being sung. It will be very accessible whether or not you have prepared beforehand. The experience of watching an opera has been truly transformed by making it possible for everyone to follow the words.
+ are phones permitted?
Short answer, yes! However, we ask you keep them on silent during the performance. Taking pictures and live video of the cast as they perform are not permitted. However, selfies in the theater and with friends at the opera are highly encouraged! Tag away.
+ when is it appropriate to clap if i like what i hear?
Your applause is welcome and very much appreciated by our cast of performers!
It is standard practice to clap at the end of large musical numbers, or special solos (“arias”) sung by one character. If you really love a performance, the traditional thing to do is shout “Bravo!” (to men) or “Brava” (to ladies). You will feel it is fun to sometime literally give a shout-out.
+ what else should i expect?
Magic. Opera is a magical combination: a story of people under pressure, a dramatic situation, a fabulous set and costumes, towering symphonic music, and a solo instrument –the human voice–that expresses human emotion as nothing else can do.
Come into this magic space and let the emotion and the music give you an experience you will never forget.
(With gratitude for the thinking and writing of Aubrey Bergauer, of the California Symphony in Walnut Creek, California.)