What to expect at the opera

Many people think opera isn’t for them…we think they couldn’t be more wrong.

We’re passionate about sharing our love of opera and encourage anyone who has never experienced an opera before to give it a go. You won’t look back.

If you have any questions about opera or want more information on how you can get involved, just get in touch!

We’ve put some answers to our most commonly asked questions below to get you started.

Simple answer? Whatever you like. Gone are the days when the opera meant penguin suits and dicky bows. These days, opera goers dress in whatever makes them most comfortable. If you like getting dolled up for a night at the theatre, go to town…if jeans and a t-shirt is more your style, that works for us.

This of course will come down to each individual opera. Some of our operas are just one hour, while others may run to three and a half or four. Our best advice? Choose your opera based on what will interest you most and you won’t event notice the hours tick by.

Some operas will have one interval, longer ones might have two and short ones might have none at all. This information will all be available in advance on our website.

Usually, we perform our operas in their original language – this could be Italian, French, German, English – or even Hungarian! - but all are accompanied with surtitles above or to the side of the stage which will keep you up to speed with every twist and turn of the opera plot.

If you’re someone who likes to prepare in advance, there is plenty of information about all the operas we produce online and through our website that will allow you to get to grips with the basics of who’s who and what happens when before the performance. Check out the what’s on section of our website for information on our current season. Don’t feel like doing any homework? That’s fine too! Immersing yourself into a new work without any preconceptions can be a hugely rewarding experience.

Many of our performances will also be accompanied by a pre-opera talk at the venue in advance of the performance either in person or online. You can find a list of all the planned talks in the performance diary on our website.

Like all theatres, the usual rules apply when it comes to taking video or photography during the performance. However, we love our social media as much as the next person, so feel free to snap and share before, during the interval and after the performance. Just don’t forget to tag us when you do! We’re on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

People are often unsure where to clap in opera and on this, there are no set rules. Opera audiences, often clap at the end of a big aria or at a pause in the action. The curtain call at the end of the performance is your moment to really show your appreciation for the performers.

Irish National Opera performs at theatres all over the country bringing opera to as wide an audience as possible, so our theatres vary greatly in both size and style. In Dublin, we often perform at the Gaiety Theatre or the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, or you could find us in more regional venues like the Everyman Theatre in Cork or the An Grianán in Letterkenny. No matter where you are, you’ll be able to enjoy the welcoming atmosphere of INO.

Voice Types

Don't know what the difference is between a soprano and a bass? Not to worry we've got you covered.

A high female voice. Typically, the beautiful young romantic lead who hits the high notes. Things don’t always end well for them, however…

A low female voice, usually more wily than the sopranos. Mezzos are sometimes cast in “trouser roles” which were traditionally sung by men, so don’t be surprised if you see a woman pretending to be a man on stage!

The lowest type of female voice, not too common in opera, as most singers are too busy trying to go up in the world.

A high male voice. Often the romantic lead with great high notes. Traditionally, they have a bit of a reputation for being more in love with themselves than their lover.

Male voice that lies between the tenor and the bass. Sometimes not to be trusted, they often play the villain of the piece.

A low male voice. Noble, wise, sometimes comic, but mostly slow-moving.

A high or falsetto male voice, similar in range to a mezzo-soprano. An acquired taste according to some, we’re big fans.

Musical Terms

A short A-Z of some frequently used musical terms.

In opera, an "act" is a major division or section of the overall performance. Operas are typically structured into multiple acts, each of which represents a distinct part of the story. Acts are like the chapters in a book.

Aria is the word given to a song in opera, where the emotions of the characters come to the fore.

Literally means ‘beautiful singing’ but often denotes singing that is very emotional and full of expression and phrasing.

Literally means ‘coloured’ and in opera, refers to elaborately ornamented singing – adding colour to the melody.

The text or script of an opera, including the lyrics of the arias, duets, and ensembles. It is the written material that the performers sing and act out

The conductor of the orchestra in an opera is often referred to as 'maestro’ - simply the Italian for master. He/she/they call(s) the shots.

Literally the Italian for work, an opera is a musical drama where the action is sung instead of spoken with an orchestra accompanying the singers in the pit.

An orchestra is a large instrumental ensemble typical of classical music, which combines instruments from different families. There are typically four main sections of instruments: strings, brass, woodwind, and percussion.

An orchestra piece of music played at the beginning of an opera before the action starts, it sets the mood of the piece.

Recitative is the name given to the conversational singing that drives the story forward. It happens between arias and is usually accompanied by the harpsichord and solo cello. Look out for it in baroque and classical opera.

A member of the music staff who plays piano or harpsichord accompaniments for rehearsals before the orchestra joins. They provide valuable coaching, assist in rehearsals and sometimes perform in the orchestra too.

The written form of a piece of music. The scores of operas can consist of A LOT of pages!

A German opera with spoken dialogue – like ‘The Magic Flute’.

The rehearsal where the orchestra and singers meet for the first time to focus on the music – no acting here!

Opera is often sung in its native language with the translation projected onto screens above or to the side of the stage.