How to Get into Opera

Opera is an Amazing Art Form, Here’s How Beginners Can Get Started

Steven Gambardella
7 min readOct 31, 2020


Photo by Vlah Dumitru on Unsplash

It’s that sound that does it for me — the orchestra tuning up.

It sparks that first fizz of pleasure. The lights dim, people in the audience take their last chance to cough or clear their throats, the curtains go up and you’re suddenly immersed in a world of somebody else’s making.

Opera is perhaps the most exquisite art form around. It combines grand live music with drama and sumptuous stage sets.

Like whiskey, cigars, oysters and other complex delicacies, opera is a taste that needs to be acquired with some effort. It takes patience and learning to get to love it, and there are, frankly, many barriers to the complete novice.

For starters, operas are typically very long, and usually sung in their native languages. The art form has a long history, and it’s not easy to know where to start. It can be a very expensive spectator experience because the ticket price covers an orchestra, singers, dancers and actors, but you can and will find cheap tickets if you’re eager.

In some countries, opera is criminally over-subsidised because the elites that govern are also the kind of people that patronise opera houses. In the UK opera gets many more multiples of government funding than, say, jazz, despite the latter being obviously more popular and accessible. It’s not fair — and that’s a subject for another post — but it does mean that more people can access opera.

It’s also undeniably an art form that’s tarnished with snobbery. Part of the barrier to opera for novices is the feeling of inadequacy many of us feel entering the realm of the very rich. But opera houses are more welcoming than designer boutiques or fancy hotels, you’d be touched by the hospitality you receive by most of them.

Once you get past the real and imagined barriers you’ll find the art form rewarding, even transforming. Unlocking the history of opera is like opening a new world of intellectual and emotional feeling.

I didn’t know a thing about opera until my late-20s. In fact, I hated opera. I thought it was for pretentious rich people. But I’m a music lover and classical music got to me. Opera is intrinsic to the…



Steven Gambardella

I am a history PhD sharing the lessons of philosophy and history with practical benefits for your life and work. Get in touch: