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Seattle Opera.

First Timer's Guide

What do I wear?

Whatever you like. Although many people enjoy dressing up when they go to operas, there’s no dress code. At Seattle Opera you'll see people wearing everything from ball gowns and tuxes to shorts and Birkenstocks. Feel free to dress up for a special night out, dress down for comfort, or find your own happy medium.

How is an opera different from a musical?

Complicated question! The short answer is: In opera everything is sung, whereas in musicals, the characters speak between songs (with exceptions in both directions). And unlike most musicals, operas only use amplification in very rare instances.

Will I understand what’s happening?

Absolutely. Every Seattle Opera mainstage performance includes English captions that are visible from every seat in the house. If the characters aren’t singing in English, we’ll project a translation on a big screen above the stage during the performance. (And if they are singing in English, we’ll project the words anyway, to make sure you understand!) You can see the overhead screen from almost every seat in McCaw Hall, and seats with limited view of the overhead screen have individual screens on the backs of the seats in front of them.

We perform operas in their original languages because the sound of the poetry is part of the music. But we caption them so people can understand every word, follow every twist and turn of the plot, smile at every joke. English captions are a bit like subtitles for foreign films—except since opera librettos are song lyrics, not movie dialogue, you don’t have to read so much!

Sometimes newer patrons are concerned that the captions are malfunctioning when characters are singing but the translation screen is blank. Don't worry! This almost always means that the characters are repeating what they have already said earlier in a piece. The music is sometimes different in the repetition, but rest assured that you're not missing any new ideas or plot developments.

That said, the key to enjoying anything is understanding it. Seattle Opera wants to help with that. Come to our Pre-Performance Talks, join the discussion at our post-show Opera Talk Backs, and learn more about the wide, wonderful world of opera by exploring our website.

Don't be late!

Unlike at movies or sports events, you can’t enter or exit an opera auditorium once the performance has begun. If you miss the curtain because of traffic, you can take in a live feed of the performance on television monitors in the lobby. Latecomers then take their seats at a suitable interval—usually intermission.

Share your enthusiasm!

Feel free to applaud, whistle, yell “Woo-hoo!”, or shout out "Bravo!” when a musician does something you love. Enthusiastic displays of appreciation are always welcome, although it’s customary to wait for an appropriate opportunity, such as the end of an aria. If you're not sure when an aria is finished, just follow the crowd. (You can boo or hiss if you really hated something, too, although that’s unlikely to make you any new friends.)

Be Courteous.

Stay quiet.

Opera is unamplified. No Dolby™ Stereo, no THX...Mozart didn’t use electricity to make his music, and neither do we. The voices you hear are created by the singers all by themselves. That’s why they’re so precious. Also, some of the most dramatic moments in opera are the quietest.

Which means...for the benefit of the artists and your fellow audience members, please turn off your phone, watch alarm, and other mobile devices and refrain from:

  • Talking or whispering, even during the overture
  • Rustling through your program, pockets, or purse
  • Unwrapping cough drops or hard candies
  • Singing, humming, or toe-tapping along

Be fragrant, not pungent.

Please use moderation in applying perfume, cologne, or scented lotion; many people are allergic to perfumes.

Exit at an appropriate moment.

Except for emergencies, we ask that you stay in your seat throughout the performance. Please note that those who exit the auditorium during the performance will need to wait until an appropriate interval, usually intermission, to re-enter.

After the performance, traffic in and out of the theater, the parking lot, and on Mercer St. can be congested. Why not join us for an Opera Talk Back in the Allen Room instead—discuss your opera experience with artists, staff, and other patrons.

No food in the theater.

There are many dining options in and around McCaw Hall, but food may not be brought into the auditorium. Drinks are permitted if they are in a reusable, lidded McCaw Hall cup, which may be purchased for an extra $3 at any bar or concession stand.

Should I bring the kids?

Some operas contain adult themes. Before bringing children, make sure that the show is appropriate for their age or maturity level. Consider checking out our content advisories, reading a synopsis on our website, and check with our ticket office staff if you aren’t sure.

Children will get much more out of going to an opera if you prepare them ahead of time by telling them the story and playing them a little of the music. Please teach your children to be respectful audience members.

No babes in arms in the theater.