Opera Demystified: A Guide to Lyric Opera’s 2016 Season

"Bel Canto" at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Listening to opera is not for everyone, this much is true. But far too many people exempt themselves from the glitz and glamour of a live opera performance because they’re afraid they won’t like it — or worse, won’t understand it and risk looking like a hayseed. Use this helpful guide to find out which of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s upcoming shows you really should give a chance; now go forth and feel cultured.

If you liked “Love Actually,” try … “The King and I

Great for first-timers, “The King and I” is a romantic, rowdy romp through the Kingdom of Siam. Though it’s technically a musical and not opera, it’s also a perfect way to dip your toes into the incredible spectacle of the Lyric. Performed in English, this entrancing love story will have you laughing and crying at the same time.

If you liked “Argo,” try … “Bel Canto

Based on Ann Patchett’s spellbinding novel, this world premiere will keep you on the edge of your seat all night. As the tales of hostages trapped by terrorists in a Peruvian politician’s home intertwine, watch music weave itself into the ties that bind them. In English, Spanish, Japanese, Russian, German, French, Latin and Quechua, the language of the Inca Empire, with projected English titles.

If you liked “Brokeback Mountain,” try … “Romeo and Juliet

Everyone knows the story of the star-crossed lovers who wanted nothing more than to ruin their lives for the sake of true love at the tender age of 13. Okay, it’s kind of a beautiful story and since you already know how it goes, it will be easy to follow along. In French with projected English subtitles.

If you liked “The Graduate,” try … “Der Rosenkavalier

May–December romances, engagement roses and schmaltzy love affairs abound in this exalted German opera. Touching on themes of age, love, sexuality and fidelity, this is basically “The Graduate” … just replace Simon and Garfunkel with Strauss. In German with projected English subtitles.

If you liked any Shakespeare play or Tarantino movie ever, try … “Nabucco

Full of themes plucked straight from “King Lear” and “Macbeth,” this wild ride includes a love triangle, religion, violence and politics. Watch warrior princesses and Hebrew priests battle it out onstage to see who can belt out the most spine-tingling note. This is the opera that catapulted Verdi to stardom, so you can feel free to brag about that after you’ve seen it. In Italian with English subtitles.

Now you want to go … here’s how to fit right in:

  • You don’t need to wear your finest furs and diamonds, just dress nicely. Think business casual — steer clear of jeans.
  • Clap after a particularly exquisite aria or an especially showy finish to a piece of music if it feels right. Current conventional wisdom says there’s no shame in appreciating artistry, even if it is between movements.
  • Remember to clap for the conductor and the orchestra. They’re a big part of the show and very frequently passed over in favor of those on the stage. They take their bows after intermission, so make sure to give them a big round of applause.
  • Give yourself extra time for dinner before the show — at least half an hour more than you think you’ll need so you don’t have to rush to the theater.
  • Make sure you’re squared away in terms of refreshments and, ahem, bathroom breaks before the curtains open. If you leave the theater, the ushers won’t let you back in until intermission or the show is over.

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