Advice From Denver Life

Feeling a sense of dread about going to the opera for the first time? Don't make any judgements until the fat lady sings. (And other advice.)

Ingo Fast opera illustration
Illustration by Ingo Fast

I’ve been invited to the opera, but I know nothing about it, and I’m not that excited. How do I make the opera tolerable—or even understand it? —Albert, Broomfield

Ah, an opera virgin! First, admit that you are engaging in a bit of reverse snobbery (“Opera is only for twee elites”)—and understand how wrong you are. Of all my friends, the one who loves opera the most is a beer-swilling, motorcycleriding ski instructor; get him on the topic of opera and he becomes positively rapturous. So drop those preconceptions right away—and look upon this as an adventure. Just as you wouldn’t embark on another outing (like climbing a 14er) without first checking out weather conditions, steepness, etc., you need to prepare for this one, too. Find out what opera you will be attending; if it’s Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” or “The Marriage of Figaro” or Verdi’s “Rigoletto” or “La traviata,” it’s your lucky day—you’ll undoubtedly know half of the music already and can happily hum along. If it’s Wagner, well, you’re going to have to grin and bear it. Before the curtain rises, research the opera a bit: Knowing the plot ahead of time will make the action on stage even more engaging. If you are really worried, listen to a few of the songs on YouTube. Then get to the opera house a few minutes early, settle in, and read the bios of the performers in the program; that will help them come to life. And don’t worry about the fact that you don’t know Italian or German; most opera houses today have built-in translator screens. Sit back and enjoy the sheer professionalism and vocal virtuosity of the performers onstage. We predict that you’ll get hooked, and afterward will be sneaking in YouTube views of Callas singing “O mio babbino caro” or Pavarotti singing “Nessun Dorma” at your desk for weeks.

We drive a large four-wheel-drive SUV because we have two big dogs, three kids, and a remote mountain house that we visit all the time. Our friends are very eco-conscious, drive a Prius, and give us grief all the time about our gas guzzler. Advice? —Bob, Denver

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We’re going to go out on a limb and guess that you and your spouse are “upright citizen” types who always try to do the proper thing. That’s what makes this so annoying and, well, hurtful. Here’s our advice: If your friends are big kidders, kid them back (“Yeah, we’re thinking about getting a Mini, putting a giant roof rack on top, and tying the Newfoundland and Great Dane up there!”). If they are not kidding (and we’d bet they’re not, or this wouldn’t bug you so much), acknowledge their serious concern with an equally serious reply: Express your sincere admiration for their ecoefforts (“Sue and Joe, it’s really great that you use just six gallons of gas a week—we wish we could do the same!”), reminding them of the several reasons you can’t (dogs, kids, remote cabin). Then explain what you and your family are doing to reduce your carbon footprint: using low-energy appliances, growing your own veggies in the backyard, composting, cutting out red meat, eschewing plastic bags for reusable canvas ones, walking to the local grocery…. Doing so will remind you of your own eco-consciousness, maybe encourage you to do more—and hopefully get your friends off your back.

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