Verona, Italy. Night picture of the famous Arena
Verona, Italy. Night picture of the famous Arena

Citalia’s Guide to Opera in Italy

To experience opera in Italy is to be taken on a journey through time, into legends and myths and, most importantly, to open your heart and mind to a treasure chest of emotions.  

Opera is a musical art form that often contradicts itself. On one hand, it’s deeply serious, taking on the despair of death, the loss of love, and scrutinising human motivation. On the other, it’s often sartorial and frivolous, poking fun at itself with dramatic flair. And that’s exactly the point - and the appeal.  

Opera is more than music: it’s drama, words, staging, costume, movement, and fundamentally, storytelling. Opera comes from the heart and composers were deeply moved by their creations and chose subjects they were passionate about. Opera expresses emotions such as love, pride, anger, envy, lust, and greed.  

Italy boasts many of the world’s best opera houses and it was home-grown composers who shaped the opera scene you see today. Let us take you on an operatic adventure through Italy and discover famous Italian operas.
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A Little Operatic History

Opera was started in the 1580s by the Florentine Camerata, a group of intellectuals who wanted to combine music with Greek drama, even though, the story goes, they had never seen Greek drama. In effect, opera was a backlash to the current music trends of the time. The Camerata believed madrigals were over-flowery and choral music was too austere. Their response was to develop what we know today as stile recitativo: the style in which a singer ‘adopts the rhythms and delivery of ordinary speech’.

One of the earliest operas was L’Orfeo, written by Claudio Monteverdi in 1607, which focused on the Greek hero Orpheus, a musician attempting to win over the gods through song to bring his wife Eurydice back to life. Focusing on themes of love and sex, over time, opera further developed. Ironically, it was the German composer George Frideric Handel who spread opera to Britain in the 1700s. He brought together the finest Italian singers and wrote over 40 Baroque operas in the language of love, Italian.

Most of the world’s operas came from Italy, the birthplace of classical operas. But let us take you back to where it really all began, an ancient Greek amphitheatre. Over the years, the Italians tried to recreate the lost Greek art and almost all plays and operas from the Renaissance period use Greek myths as the plot.
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Operatic Terms

Before you attend your first opera performance, there are a few things you should know. An opera starts with words, known as the libretto (“little book”) which translates into a whole evening at the opera house. Make sure to read the synopsis before the performance starts, that way you’ll understand what is happening on stage. A libretto normally includes an English translation as well as the original so you can follow as the story unfolds.

Then there’s the opera score which is divided into sections. Typically, operas consist of between two and five acts, and each act is separated into scenes. The scenes are divided into smaller sections such as the famous aria which is a big number that allows the singer to showcase her incredible talent without much of a plot. Towards the end of the opera, there is a cadenza which brings the whole arena to life as the vocals set the atmosphere on fire.

We come on to the subject of the voices and, in the opera world, these come in six different varieties: soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone, and bass (ranked from highest to lowest). Each voice produces a different sound and when combined send shivers down your spine.
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How to Go to an Opera

Now that we’ve looked at the history and learnt a little about some operatic terms, it’s time to look at how to actually go to an opera.  

Buying a Ticket

Before going to the opera, you need to get yourself a ticket. Tickets go fast so we suggest booking these in advance. The good news for you is that Citalia can actually help you purchase the ticket. We have a fantastic range of Italian opera holidays available. Verona Opera Festival is celebrating it’s 100th anniversary in 2023 so you don’t want to miss getting a ticket for this!  

Opera House Floor Plan

Famous Italian Opera House’s are huge inside and depending on where you sit, your experience at the opera can differ greatly. The orchestra section is located on the ground floor, and these tend to be the most expensive seats directly in front of the stage. 

Tiers make their way around the opera house and are set out on different levels. The higher up you go, the cheaper the ticket. 

Boxes are like private booths, and you can rearrange your seat to suit your own comfort.  

Standing room is only available in some opera houses and is located behind the orchestra, tickets are very cheap, but it is a long time to stand throughout the performance.  

In many opera houses, the best sound can actually be enjoyed in the very top balcony and seats close to the front often have the worst experience in terms of acoustics. However, some people like to be up close to see the singers properly, but even if you’re sat at the back, you can rent a set of binoculars from the opera house.  

Dress Code

Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t actually a dress code for the opera. Some take the occasion as an opportunity to put on their finest clothes and make an evening of it. Whilst others will dress more casually. Most, however, will wear business attire and this is the safest option for your first time. Note though, that on the opening night, most of the audience will don a tux or an elegant dress.  

Pre-Opera Dining

The opera can last a whole evening and so it is advised to make sure you have something to eat beforehand. Don’t go too heavy on the drinks as you don’t want to be going to the bathroom midway through and miss any of the action!  

Arrival at the Opera House

Arrive early – you don’t want to miss the start of the performance and you may be denied entry if you arrive late. 

Make use of the cloakroom – you can be sitting for hours during the opera so make sure you are seated comfortably and check any unwanted coats into the cloakroom. 

Make use of the bathroom facilities – before the performance starts ensure you use the restroom first.  

Find the right seat – the opera house is huge, so make sure to ask the stewards if you are unsure.  

The Opera Programme

Most opera performances will have two programmes on sale; one will be the libretto itself which you can use to follow along with the action, and a deluxe programme with the history of the opera, an introduction to the performers, pictures and so on.  


Many operas will be in Italian and so technology has provided a solution to this by the way of surtitles. These are slides projected over the stage with an English translation to make it easier to follow along.  

The Subject of Applause

Believe it or not, there’s actually etiquette to follow when it comes to applause at the Opera House. In Italian opera it’s best not to clap every time the singer hits a high note, but at the end of a big number it is more appropriate to applaud. When in doubt, don’t applaud, it will become clear when it is the appropriate time to do so. Never whistle, in Italian this is seen as booing. You may hear “bravo” being shouted from the audience, but there are different ways of saying this depending on who has performed. Use bravo for a man, brava for a woman, bravi for men, and brave for women.  
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Discover the real Italy with Citalia

Are you ready for a night at the opera? With our Italian opera holidays, you can enjoy a magical performance. We have 95 years’ experience in creating tailormade holidays to Italy. Give us a call today and start planning your trip to the opera. Andiamo!

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