How to Enjoy Ballet and Opera

I love opera and ballet, but I didn’t always. I remember very excitedly going to my first ballet in San Francisco and leaving with no idea what I just saw and having thought that maybe there was a better way I could have spent my time and money.

Opera wasn’t much better. A lot of the music I listen to is classical, but whenever I was listening to a big playlist of Mozart music, I’d skip through the opera songs.

Now opera and ballet are my two of my favorite types of performances to go to. I prefer them to rap concerts, movies, and just about anything else. My favorite place to see these types of performances is Budapest, and I’ll often adjust my travel schedule around them.

While ballet and opera are obviously fairly different, the key to enjoying both of them is the same.

I learned this during that same first ballet that I wasn’t so into. It was the Little Mermaid and I went with a ballerina friend of mine. She loved it and laughed when I said that I had no idea what was happening.

“You’re supposed to read the story in advance so that you know what’s going on.”

Oh. I was so focused on trying to figure out the plot that I got frustrated and didn’t appreciate the ballet. I didn’t really want to go to another ballet, but I did anyway, having read the synopsis first, and I really enjoyed it.

The same is true of operas. You have to read the synopsis first. Unlike other forms of entertainment, where the plot is the primary draw, it’s mostly a formality for operas and ballets. You go to see the emotion conveyed through dance or singing, to enjoy the music of the full orchestra, and to see people do incredibly difficult things.

I got so into ballet that I ended up taking classes myself. I got to the fourth level of classes, which sounds impressive until you realize that the fourth level is still called beginner ballet. Ballet is an incredibly difficult pursuit, and one of the few that require absolute grace. So you end up doing very difficult physical tasks, getting all of them at least a little bit wrong, and have to pass it off like it’s easy and fluid.

Taking those classes helped me appreciate ballet even more. They make it look so easy that you don’t realize how difficult even the most basic things that they do are.

Find a good ballet or opera performance to go check out. Read the synopsis before so that you know what’s going on. Sometimes I’ll read them a few times just to really ingrain the story. As there’s no spoken words, it’s sometimes hard to know who is who unless you’ve read the synopsis on Wikipedia.

When you go, just focus on enjoying the music, the costumes, the set, and the difficult tasks that the performers are making look easy. Even if you don’t love the art of ballet or opera in the beginning, there’s a lot there to take in and consider.

I now go to a dozen or so operas and ballets combined each year, and my enjoyment of them varies by a lot. I’ve also found that it’s impossible to predict which ones I’ll really like and which ones will just be okay. I walked out of the ballet of Spartacus, which I thought would be really cool, but I loved The Fountain of Bakhchisarai, which I thought would be mediocre.

My favorite ballets are The Fountain of Bakhchisarai and The Nutcracker, and my absolute favorite opera was Rigoletto. If you see any of those coming around, check them out. It’s fun to enjoy a less-common form of entertainment, and you get the added bonus of being able to get your friends into it.

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Photo is from the Sylvia ballet in Budapest. Solid but not my favorite ever.

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