Opera for Beginners.


New Member
Good evening everyone. I have come to ask you all for any knowledge that you can share about Opera music. I am a college student who is getting near graduation and I've seen a great change in my tastes in virtually every aspect of my life, and I've become less in touch with the music I use to listen to. I don't have any first hand experience with this genre, but I have heard just bits and snippets of Opera type music, and I must say that I was always taken back by it. I think there was a scene in the movie Philadelphia that played one gloomy yet inspiring peice in the backround.

I'd really like to know which Operas/Singers I should start off with. A few of them would actually serve me better. Maybe a small range of different types so that I may find something that best appeals to me. Thanks in advance!


Inactive user
Asking for a few artists is like eating appetizers and passing on the main courses. Do a websearch for KUSC, the classical music station out of USC in Los Angeles. You can hear the programming on the web. Sundays during the performing season they broadcast the performances from the MET filled in with interviews, background information and older performances before the actual broadcast. There is a relatively inexpensive CD hitting the stores of 'essential and classic performances' It's a great sampler. Opera can range from the delightfull light comedy and satire of Gilbert and Sullivan to the marathon productions of Wagner at Bayreuth.


Elite Member
Opera is a long journey, and a good guide (a favored composer, or a few artists who can be counted on to give satisfaction) will give it a jump-start.

MET broadcasts are a good free sampler.

Other suggestions: in composers, the traditional "Big 3" are Mozart, Verdi, Wagner. Mozart is best-known for three operas he wrote with da Ponte, plus the Magic Flute. The MET's Magic Flute DVD is superb, and a great thing to start with at any age. The da Ponte operas are Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Cosi fan Tutte. Grab the recording of Cosi conducted by Colin Davis on Philips. There are several worthy FIgaro recordings. Giulini led one of the best in the early 60s. Don Giovanni is maybe the greatest of the three, but most susceptible to falling flat. No particular recommendations there.

Verdi: Ask a musician about his greatest operas, and you will hear back Otello and Falstaff. Ask a member of the broader public and you will hear Aida, or maybe Rigoletto. Start with those two. With Rigoletto, there is a well-sung recording on London featuring Pavarotti and Sutherland. There is also a stunning recording of the last act led by Toscanini. Don't miss that-- it will make your hair stand on end.

Wagner is tricky. For some, it is an obvious attraction. For others, an instant allergy. Try a few samplers of orchestral highlights from the Ring, from Tristan, and bits of others like Lohengrin and Meistersinger. See what intrigues you. Oddly, the first Wagner really to grab me was Parsifal, although it is long, slow, and rapidly becoming old-fashioned.

One more composer to try: there is a great recording of Puccini's La Boheme starring Pavarotti and Freni, conducted by Karajan. Also, Tosca speaks pretty directly to any level of sophistication. There is a classic recording by Maria Callas conducted by de Sabata, but other fine ones. Zubin Mehta conducted a DVD filmed on location in Rome, which is less gimmicky than it sounds. Good theatre.

For artists, try Pavarotti and Maria Callas as singers; Abbado, Giulini, Karajan, Toscanini for conductors. But don't go nuts until you've tasted a little.

For composers, you can work back in time through Gluck, Handel, and Monteverdi. Or forward through Janacek, Debussy, and Berg. And there are others. Good luck!
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Elite Member
A quick, down-and-dirty beginner's list:
Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro
Puccini, La Boheme
Tchaikovsky, Eugene Onegin

For an absolute beginner, I highly recommend starting with recordings of highlights of these operas; the recitatives can be pretty boring until you really get into the stories. Also, until you've sampled a bit, I wouldn't worry too much about who's singing what; just listen a bit and get to know some of the voices, then you can start looking for recordings of the ones you really like.

Of course, we're all making the assumption you're talking about recordings. Opera is as much theatre as it is music, so... dress to the nines, grab your favorite friend and GO TO THE OPERA!
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Active Member with Corp. Privileges
There is an (Australian) ABC collection of the 100 most famous arias that was played on radio recently. Although this is not an approach I like, it would be a useful introduction to an opera novice.


Patrick M Thayer

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
If you love music, you'll love opera. It's fine to try to learn about the composers, stories, music, etc., but I suggest listening to CDs of popular arias. Wagner is great but don't start there -- I suggest Mozart, Puccini, Verdi, Bellini, Rossini. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO DO IS ACTUALLY GO TO THE OPERA -- there's really no substitute! -- I guarantee you'll love the experience. That's how I got hooked 40 years ago when an Aunt took me to La Boheme at the Met -- wonderful!!! --Look at it as a big adventure. . . .
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