Attending the Opera–Tips

The Budapest Opera has a fairly good repertoire of ballets and operas on each season. Usually its the same ones year after year, with a bit of variation. This past week I went to go see Carmen. I’ve seen Carmen as a ballet before years ago, but never as an opera. I’m pretty familiar with a lot of the music in Carmen as I’ve played it numerous times in an orchestra when I was younger so I was excited to see it in opera form.

Budapest Opera House

You can purchase tickets to see these things for as low as 500 HUF or about $2.50 CAD which is ridiculously cheap even by Hungarian standards, but from these seats you can’t expect to see much of the stage. From my seat, I could probably see about 60% of the stage when I was sitting at the edge and about 20% if I sat back. Of course these prices attract a number of tourists and individuals who might not otherwise attend an opera.

Budapest Opera House

Thinking of checking out an opera while you travel through Europe? Here are some of my tips on things to do or avoid while soaking in some culture. Many of the following happened this recent time I went to the opera, but I’ve experienced all of these things at one point or another as an audience member:

Adelina’s Tips for Seeing an Opera (as a Tourist)


Google the plot of the opera you’ll be seeing. It’ll make the whole performance so much more enjoyable if you understand what is going on. Even if you speak the language they’re singing in, you probably won’t be able to understand what they’re singing about. A lot of opera houses have translations into the local language above the stage for you to follow along, but if they don’t (or you don’t speak the language), having done the research, you’ll still know what is going on.

What to wear

Dressing up isn’t necessary, but most people still wear something nice to the theatre. If you want to blend in, then no jeans or t-shirts. Girls, aim for a dress or a nice shirt and skirt combo. Gents, a buttoned down shirt and slacks are more than enough. If you want, you can dress for the nines, but its not necessary.

Don’t be late

If the opera starts at 7:00 in the evening, you better be in the opera house at 6:45 at the latest giving you enough time to locate your seats, and go to the washroom if needed. If you arrive late, after the performance has started, you will not be seated until the ushers feel it’s an appropriate time to let you in, usually at the end of the overture if you’re lucky. If there is no overture, you’ll probably be left standing outside until the end of Act I.

This practice of only entering a performance when the audience is clapping is one I learned the hard way when I was much younger. I still remember the situation and how embarrassed I was by being told off by my music teacher that I’ve never made that mistake again.

Turn off your mobile

Vibrate is not off because it will still buzz and can be heard. And just because your phone is silent does not mean that you can send text messages or to check them. Every time you do everyone in your row and behind you will automatically glance over at the sudden flash of light from your phone.

No cameras or recording devices

No matter how sly you think you are, you WILL be caught by a disapproving usher and told to stop it. Not to mention, the light coming off of the camera will be disrupting your seat mates when you turn your device on or off. That little bit of light in their corner of their eye will distract them from what is happening on stage.

Plus, someone is always prone to forget to turn off their flash. There is nothing worse that having a camera flash go off in the middle of a performance in the eyes of a performer. Trust me, first hand experience having spent a lot of time on stage when younger. Its blinding and takes you by surprise.

Don’t talk or hum along

When the lights are dim, its time for you to be quiet. Just because the curtain is not up yet does not mean that the performance has not started. Often operas have overtures to start and entr’actes between the acts to entertain the audience while the scenes are being changed behind the curtain. This is not an opportunity for you to start whispering to your neighbour.

Worse yet is trying to hum or sing along to what is happening on stage. Great, you know the song they’re singing / playing, but the rest of the audience doesn’t want to hear you sing it, but rather the performers who they’ve paid to see.

When to applaud

When do you clap? You don’t need to clap after every piece of music. In fact, sometimes its better so that the opera can go on uninterrupted. Unlike the symphony or recital hall, it is appropriate to applaud after a singer completes an aria (a song) or a particularly difficult passage. Definitely clap at the end of an act. If you are not sure where to applaud, err on the side of caution and see what others in the audience do.

All these things may seem like common sense, but sometimes when put out of your element, common sense goes out the window. Follow these things to minimize the disruption you may cause to your seat neighbours so you can fully enjoy the experience.

In the meantime, enjoy these selections from Carmen: