12 Beautiful Operas Perfect for First-Time Opera Goers

opera singers on stage
Photo Credit: Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera.

Do you secretly want to go to an opera and see what it’s all about? Are you curious about hearing those singers live and in-person…with no microphones? But does the whole idea of opera just intimidate you a bit? Never fear, here’s a list of beginner-friendly operas that everyone should see. Support your local opera company and grab a ticket for one of these classics!

1. Die Zauberflöte

Do you fancy fantastical storylines of fairytale magic? Do you need to see the hero slay the dragon (well, giant serpent in this case) and rescue the kidnapped princess? Do you need a villain with a murderous desire and a court of minions that do her bidding? Then look no further than this Mozart opera, which translated means The Magic Flute (bonus, many American productions are in English!). Check out these badass high notes.

2. Amahl and the Night Visitors

This one-act opera by Gian Carl Menotti is perfect for both the holiday season and for any opera beginner. In English, it tells the story of a poor widow and her disabled son as they welcome in three strange visitors from the East in search of the Holy Child.

3. Cendrillon

This French version of Cinderella by Massenet has all the charm of the fairytale that we know and love. The music is lush, the setting is magical, and the characters memorable. Oh, and if you’re worried about it being in French, never fear. Operas have subtitles! Click here for the amazing aria sung by La Fée, our Fairy Godmother.

4.  Il barbiere di Siviglia

Translated to “The Barber of Seville,” this Rossini opera is a Bel Canto (Italian for “beautiful singing”) extraordinaire and perfect for introducing any opera novice to Bel Canto opera. This opera is a comedy revolving around a plan for a daring escape so that young lovers can be together…but, of course, the plan goes wrong in the most hilarious of ways.

5. La Traviata

opera singers on stage
Photo Credit: Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera.

Italian for “The Fallen Woman,” this tragic opera by Verdi has an opera banger, “Libiamo,” the “Drinking Song,” that you will instantly recognize. The story centers around Violetta, a consumptive courtesan who is woo’ed by Alfredo, a man certainly above her station. The opera was also featured in the classic movie Pretty Woman.

6. Roméo et Juliette

Romeo and Juliet opera singers in costume on stage
Photo Credit: Robert Millard / LA Opera.

You know the story of Romeo and Juliette. This Gounod opera tells the tragic love story through breathtaking music and we think you might have your own love affair with a few of these arias. The most famous aria is Juliette’s waltzing song “Je veux vivre” (I want to live), where she sings about being young and in the springtime of her life in response to her nurse’s promptings of finding a husband. Follow the Shakespeare love story from start to its bitter end.

7. Hänsel und Gretel

Back to fairy tale land with this classic. German composer Engelbert Humperdinck wrote this opera for his sister’s children as a Christmas gift. It is still considered to be a children’s opera and is most often performed at Christmas. From the gingerbread chorus to the cackling witch, both children and adults will love this adorable musical tale.

8. La Boheme

The Broadway musical Rent was based on this Puccini opera. Centering on a group of starving artists in 1830s Paris, this ill-fated love story is in a style of opera called verismo, which means “realism.” It told the struggles of real, everyday people, with no magic or sugarcoating. Follow Rodolfo and Mimi and their friends as they struggle with poverty and making their art in the midst of that and the other joys and, ultimately, sorrows that the bohemian life throws at them.

9. Semele

This Handel oratorio is often performed as an opera, and why not with its many breathtaking arias and choruses? Semele is a mortal who has fallen in love with and become the mistress to the god Jupiter. Juno, wife of Jupiter, seethes with jealousy, and this saga between mortal and divine ensues. The opera is in English, and is often staged beautifully to draw you into the realm of the gods.

10. Carmen

Carmen is a sexy classic with many memorable tunes, including the “Habanera” and the “Toreador Song.” This French opera by Bizet is set in Seville in the 1820s and tells the tango of the seductive Carmen and her conquest, Don José. Carmen is a strong lead, there are fortune tellers and card readings, bullfighters, betrayal, and passion galore. It will not be a dull night at the opera.

11. L’elisir d’amore

Back to Italian Bel Canto, this comic opera by Donizetti, translated to The Elixir of Love is a feel-good opera that is sure to charm an opera beginner. Adina is a well-to-do woman and poor Nemorino is poor and hopelessly in love with her. That might all change when Dulcamara comes to town selling his cart full of magical elixirs, including an elixir of love…which turns out to just be a bottle of cheap wine. Hilarity ensues when Adina finds Nemorino drunk but sure that the elixir is working!

12. Porgy and Bess

You won’t find this recommendation on too many opera beginner lists, but Gershwin’s American masterpiece is a fine opera for beginners. Many people are familiar with the aria “Summertime” as a jazz standard but don’t know that it actually is an opera aria. Set in the 1920s Charleston slums, the opera deals with heavy themes like domestic violence, drugs, disability, poverty, and racism, but it is an important work with a rich history (which you should read up on before seeing it!). And jazzy opera music? Doesn’t get much better.

Don’t delay, look up your local opera company or university opera program and buy a ticket to their next show. You won’t be sorry!

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