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What are your first memories of opera?

Share your memories of the art form from The Royal Opera and beyond.

By Mel Spencer (Senior Editor (Social Media))

28 July 2016 at 4.57pm | 40 Comments

Shocked by a ludicrous death? Amazed by an unexpected performance? Caught off-guard by a live broadcast while channel-flicking? Love it or hate it, there's something unforgettable about experiencing an opera for the first time.

We encouraged our Twitter followers to indulge in a moment of nostalgia and tell us how they got hooked on opera — or how they learnt to love it — be it live on the Covent Garden stage, or further afield. We were not disappointed.

What was your first experience of opera?
Let us know via the comments below.

ROH Live Cinema relays are a great way to experience opera for the first time. Find your nearest cinema and sign up to our mailing list.

This article has 40 comments

  1. Chiaki Ohashi responded on 29 July 2016 at 8:00am Reply

    First opera experience: viewing of the recorded broadcast of La Boheme (San Francisco Opera; Mirella Freni, Luciano Pavarotti) at the age of three.
    First Royal Opera experience: outdoor live viewing of Tosca (September 1992; Zubin Mehta, Luciano Pavarotti, Elisabeth Holleque, Silvano Carroli) at the age of five followed by Otello (May 1993; Sir Edward Downes, Vladimir Atlantov,Katia Ricciarelli, Justino Díaz) in the amphitheatre as the youngest audience member. Many thanks for the wonderful two and a half decades.

    • Chiaki Ohashi responded on 5 August 2016 at 9:49am

      sorry, I forgot to add there a significant fact that my first ever Boheme was a unique one which had a very happy ending that left no one dead!

  2. Randolph Magri-Overend responded on 29 July 2016 at 8:07am Reply

    My first introduction to opera was my grandfather playing his 78s of Rigoletto in Cairo, Egypt. That was 70 or so years ago and when my grandad warned my brother and I to stop throwing paper arrows to each other on pain of sending us to help grandma with the washing-up, we naturally stopped. Favourite aria still remains 'Cortigiani, vil razza Danatta'

  3. Sam Vye responded on 29 July 2016 at 9:34am Reply

    Sitting with my Dad listening to The Pearl Fishermen at about 9 or 10. Then much later in my 20's sitting in The Headmasters Garden, Kings School, Gloucester having a black tie pic-nic listening to Carmen! A wonderful experience!

  4. Nina Battleday responded on 29 July 2016 at 9:40am Reply

    Traviata at the ROH in the early 50s. With a very correct boy friend who had even asked my parents for permission to take me! Have forgotten the boy friend but not the whole experience of visiting the opera house or the production, I think sets by Sophie Fedorovitch.

  5. Andrea responded on 29 July 2016 at 10:33am Reply

    My first - conscious - experience with opera was a live broadcast from Met's La Traviata with Cotrubas/Domingo/Levine which made a life changing impact. I was 16 back then. My first live opera on stage was Werther in our small local theatre - and it blew me away! Nearly 35 years later Werther at the ROH last month did the same!

  6. Jane Susanna Ennis responded on 29 July 2016 at 12:54pm Reply

    My first experience of opera was listening to DIE WALKUERE, the most exciting experience I had ever had in the entire 13 years of my life! (More than 50 years ago.......)

  7. Andrew Brown responded on 29 July 2016 at 2:13pm Reply

    My first experience of opera and it fact the first piece of music I can remember ing hearing as a young child was the overture to Tannhauser, my mum brought an album that had Botticelli's Venus on it and both have haunted me every since!

    First opera I saw was Das Rheingold as part of the complete cycle of Der Ring des Nibelungen In Bristol, Welsh Opera on tour! Yes dived in at the deep end I was in my 20's this was after watching the Bayreuth Ring on tv, or most of it. Der Ring is amazing and the more I read and learn about it, appreciate it more and more it grows with me.... more cycles in London please

  8. Bryan Moore responded on 29 July 2016 at 7:25pm Reply

    To speak the truth, although I always enjoyed operatic singing, my first real interest started with the aria La mama morta sang by Maria Callas in the film Philadelphia. It wasn't just the singing, which was sublime, but the passion showed by the main character played by Tom Hanks. From there I bought the DVD of Andrea Chenier which I thoroughly enjoyed and have gone on to having almost around 80 opera DVD's which I watch regularly in rotation. I can't watch an opera without knowing the libretto so I have the librettos for each. mostly Schimers's, and I know all the main operas very well now. The modern sopranos are wonderful and have perfect, to me, voices and are excellent actors and have lovely personalities. I attend as many live performances as I can, the next at the ROH in September........... and all by courtesy of Tom Hanks.

  9. Patricia Davies responded on 29 July 2016 at 7:56pm Reply

    I went to see Giselle, this year. It was one of the most Magical and Memorable experience's of my life. Truly Wonderful. Giselle was Beautiful and would love to see it again.

  10. Pam Elphinstone responded on 29 July 2016 at 11:04pm Reply

    When I was about 7 yrs old I heard Mario Lanza sing 'E lucevan le stelle' on an EP. Then records, tapes, CDs, a touring company singing 'La Boheme'. First live ROH I could afford a ticket for was Fidelio before the ROH modernisation. Over 60 years of glorious music. xx

  11. Jonathan Coulton responded on 30 July 2016 at 12:49am Reply

    Due to my advanced age I can't recall which came first, and if you have an archivist I would love it if you could confirm, but our head of sixth form used to bring small groups in his car down the M1 from Leicestershire to view opera from the upper slips. Luciana Serra as the Queen of the Night was one such evening with loads and loads of toddlers as Papageno's brood; a sumptuous Semele and the star cast of Agnes Baltsa and Jose Carreras in Carmen. Thank you Mr Jagger, wherever you are, for instilling in me a lifelong love and passion for the lyric arts.

  12. Alan Evison responded on 30 July 2016 at 9:31am Reply

    My introduction to opera was Colin Davis's historic complete performance of Les Troyens in about 1970 with I think Jon Vickers and Josephine Veasey. Somehow the huge length of the opera and its grand scale won me over. Having been to the recent excellent production of Les Troyens, I am still a great fan of the opera.

  13. John Groves responded on 30 July 2016 at 10:13am Reply

    Turandot with Amy Schuard at ROH(1964?) was my first experience of any opera - what a voice, what charisma! Totally hooked by that experience so then booked for Bartered Bride in English - and you could hear ALL the words!! - conducted by Kempe(I believe) set in a wonderful ToyTown set. I have never seen a better production since. Next was Samson and Delilah with Ronald Dowd at Sadlers Wells - the collapse of the temple at the end was spectacular. I was hooked for life: I now visit Germany about ten times a year, seeing about 60 operas, mostly unusual ones - have just returned from Rossini in Wildbad (Sigismondo) - and all thanks to ROH!!!

  14. Gillian Cranefield responded on 30 July 2016 at 12:43pm Reply

    Mum a big opera fan. Heard stuff as a child but thought it wasn't for me. After my father died I decided to treat Mum to Madame Butterfly in the round at the Royal Albert Hall. I think it was 2001. I decided I could 'endure' it for her. I completely lost track of time and found myself gripping the rail with tears on my cheek. I now have the absolute privilege of being part of Royal Opera House Thurrock Community Choir. Thanks Mum. Thanks ROH!!

  15. Rachel Andrews responded on 30 July 2016 at 3:49pm Reply

    My first experience with opera was on stage at the ROH Covent Garden in the Queen of Spades! 10 year old me fell in love with opera from the other side of the curtain and I was lucky enough to perform in Carmen in 2008/9 - the most amazing experience and gave me a love for the ROH that keeps me coming back, even if it is in the audience nowadays ;)

  16. Pat Sory responded on 30 July 2016 at 6:03pm Reply

    First opera was Hansel and Gretel in Stuttgart, when we were stationed in Germany - date about 1951?

  17. Mark Wringe responded on 31 July 2016 at 12:22am Reply

    Not where you'd recommend someone start - Hermann Goetz' Die Widerspaenstigen Zaehmung (The Taming of the Shrew) Wexford Opera festival 1991. We changed into our finery behind a petrol station, arrived in the nick of time, and sat in the wrong seats. None of us were wowed. If you actually wanted to stop someone taking an interest in opera you could hardly have done better - but if that was the intention, the plan failed miserably!

  18. Rhion Jones responded on 31 July 2016 at 9:24am Reply

    I grew up in Burry Port, South Wales - to this day the only small town with a Grand Opera Company: In 1959 and again in 1962, I was an 'Urchin' in wonderful performances of Carmen. Lesley, my wife of 43 years similarly cut her teeth on their productions of Cav/Pag and The Gondoliers etc. My first at the ROH was Il Travatore in 1970 ??as a student able only to sit in the Slip seats. Promised myself I'd come back and watch the other 2/3 of the staging. We did and have been regulars for 30 years http://www.burryportopera.org.uk

  19. 1. In Johannesburg, South Africa, when I was a boy, my mother dragged my brother and me to see Verdi's Macbeth. My brother and I giggled throughout the production, especially as it looked as if Macbeth was Lady Macbeth's supper.
    2. My first time at Covent Garden: I laughed at Papageno! People around me within a radius of twenty rows glared at me for causing a disturbance.

    Since those less than successful occasions I have had wonderful times at the opera all around the world and I have even on occasion had a vastly enjoyable, not entirely stuffy and even moving time at Covent Garden

  20. Oana Călinoiu responded on 31 July 2016 at 3:24pm Reply

    Discovering the 2009 production of "Carmen" with Elīna Garanča and Roberto Alagna has changed my life forever. It was last year, when I was 13. I've loved opera ever since, and I'll never stop loving it.

  21. Lauren responded on 31 July 2016 at 3:51pm Reply

    My first opera was closing night of Don Giovanni at the Met my freshman year of college. I had heard from some upperclassmen how wonderful the production was and discovered there were a few tickets left for that night. By the time I arrived the standing room tickets were gone and all that was left were $100 partial view or $130 full view. I splurged and ended up in towards the back of the orchestra section. I will never regret that decision.

  22. Jan Hart responded on 31 July 2016 at 5:32pm Reply

    It wasn't my first experience, but my first 'blown away' moment: Salome. Kristine Ciesinski in the title role. I couldn't speak afterwards, I was so overcome. Since then opera has been my great love. Dutchman, Tosca (9 times), Rigoletto, Wozzeck, Carmen, Magic Flute, to name but a few of the many wonderful productions I've seen.

  23. Stephen Cutler responded on 31 July 2016 at 5:36pm Reply

    1963, age 10. A wonderful teacher called Roy Sallis bringing the Callas La Scala set of Trovatore and Sutherland Art of the Prima Donna into class and succeeding over the course of several weeks in splitting a class of rough, poor, inner city kids in Bermondsey into two fiercely partisan groups, one for Callas and the other for Sutherland.

  24. Pauline Yates responded on 31 July 2016 at 6:06pm Reply

    I was raised in a region riddled with poverty - a family of factory workers. My first experience of opera was the BBC 2 broadcasts on a Saturday afternoon. I was completely blown away.

  25. Stephanie Pemberton responded on 31 July 2016 at 6:17pm Reply

    Radio and my dads records with him singing along and then live at The New Theatre, Cardiff to see WNO Rigoletto aged 9! I had fallen in love with one of the characters. My dad was cheering encore so I joined in and another man on the stage blew me a kiss! I was mortified and my dad was thrilled.

  26. Andy Gilliland responded on 31 July 2016 at 7:50pm Reply

    Puccini festival in Torre del Lago in 1994, pretty standard performance of Tosca but the atmosphere and surroundings make this a stand out moment in a long Opera journey.
    ROH: Diana Damrau as QOTN in the McVicar production. Magic on top of mystery.

  27. My mother loved Opera arias, but growing up Italian that is normal. Opera though, when you are young and Italian, looks more something for parents and granparents. When I moved to the US and started to teach at Duke University, my students assumed I was an Opera expert. One day while I was talking about the "the Calunnia" the painting by Botticelli, a student - a young, fit and atlethic fellow - said: "Prof, its like the " Calunnia è un venticello" in the Barber of Seville by Rossini, do you know it?"
    "Oh yes!" I replied, but I didn't know which Aria that was, I could't remember so I said" why don't you sing that for us?" And he did. With a beautiful baritone voice he sang the entire aria for the class. Then he came to my office and gave me 3 Opera tapes to listen: Traviata, Rigoletto and Barber of Siville of course. Now I have membership to Fenice and Arena

  28. Alexandra Wilson responded on 1 August 2016 at 1:24pm Reply

    Two things sparked the interest. My Dad took me to see Gilbert and Sullivan shows as a child and I joined the G&S society at University. One thing led to another and I ended up writing my undergraduate dissertation on the parody of opera in G&S.

    I'd also been taken to see a couple of operas on school trips: Opera North performing Tosca in Bradford and The Marriage of Figaro in Hull. I was somewhat baffled by Tosca. There were, of course, no surtitles, I didn't know what was happening, and I was ready to get my coat and leave after Act 2! I remember enjoying the Mozart more: perhaps we had been better prepared in terms of being told the plot in advance. But something about the Tosca must have grabbed me, despite the inauspicious start: today I'm an opera historian and have written a book about Puccini!

  29. Roger Taylor responded on 2 August 2016 at 12:27pm Reply

    As a student in the early 1970s I saw performances by ENO visiting the New Theatre, Oxford. The highlights were performances of the Reginald Goodall Ring Cycle with Rita Hunter. I have been an opera enthusiast ever since, particularly for Wagner.

  30. francois responded on 3 August 2016 at 3:33pm Reply

    Though I am French, my first experience of opera was at the Royal Opera House! It was in the seventies, a wonderful production of Tosca with Grace Bumbry and Carlo Bergonzi. I immediately became opera-addict!! In the following years I attended a few opera performances at Paris Opera, with stars like Nicolai Gedda, Placido Domingo, Mirella Freni or Sherill Milnes, and also at the Royal Opera House. I particularly remember a thrilling, extremely exciting performance of Un Ballo in maschera in 1976, with Luciano Pavarotti and Martina Arroyo in a remarkable production (of which there is a ROH DVD with Domingo and Ricciarelli). I was still a child but I remember the electricity in the audience, which litterally exploded into a standing ovation after the Act II Duet. It was early July (or late June) and summer in London was extremely hot and humid, so many spectators were wearing casual clothes, which at that time was very rare at the ROH: My parents were almost shocked!

  31. Keith Gregory responded on 7 August 2016 at 12:24pm Reply

    My first live opera was Puccini's "Manon Lescaut" at the Royal Opera House on 3rd December 1968 (I still have the program). I was transfixed, having only ever heard opera on records borrowed from the local Library up until then. I sat at the very back of the amphitheatre, courtesy of tickets from Youth and Music, and have never forgotten the singing, the production or the atmosphere. Every time I hear or see Manon Lescaut I think back to that December evening all those years ago.

  32. David Morris responded on 8 August 2016 at 8:23pm Reply

    When I was 14 I went to my local library and took out a recoding of "Lucia di Lammermoor" with Joan Sutherland. When I heard it that was it! Now I am 63 and have been to the ROH over 1100 times. My first visit was on 22nd October 1968 "AIDA" with Gwyneth Jones . Opera is the greatest art form and I discover something everyday!

  33. Peter responded on 10 August 2016 at 1:05pm Reply

    My first experience was actually the D'Oyly Carte in the Mikado, my first real opera was Scottish Opera performing Die Meistersinger with Alexander Gibson conducting, and Norman Bailey singing his 100th Sachs at the age of 14 in Newcastle, sitting in the gallery from 4.30 in the afternoon. Why Wagner, I had just heard Birgit Nilsson sing the final scene of Gottdamerung on a Decca 3 disc set of opera's greatest hits.

  34. Margaret Huggon responded on 11 August 2016 at 5:37pm Reply

    My first introduction to opera was as a child of nine through my father's record of Mozart's Magic Flute. I found the score in our local library and learned two of the songs. I fulfilled my ambition of attending the Royal Opera House when I was 65 for a production of La Boheme. My ambition is to follow my father's advice to go to the opera in Milan!

  35. Tony Boyd-Williams responded on 12 August 2016 at 7:14am Reply

    My first ever experience was in the 1950's and was Il Trovatore on the BBC with c Vic Oliver as conductor..At that age,I did not check who the singers were but realized I was on a marvellous voyage of discovery with such fantastic music and a truly brilliant studio production.
    I knew then I wanted to see live opera and within a few years saw within two weeks at the New Theatre Cardiff no less than four productions by Welsh National Opera - Il Barbiere, La Battaglia di Legnano,Guillaume Tell and Tosca..They were a splendid start to live opera and to this day,I have vivid memories of each.
    For enabling me to embark on a lifetime of opera going and collecting recordings, many thanks BBC and WNO!

  36. In the 1960's I saw La Traviata, open air, at La Caracalla baths in Rome. Verdi's overture drifted over us from an unseen orchestra way below us. It was my first opera and I've loved it and Verdi ever since. Verdi's statue is a constant reminder in my Italian family city of Trieste. The city boasts a Teatro Verdi. The ROH's recent Traviata production was wonderful. Violetta was spellbinding.

  37. John Humm responded on 2 November 2016 at 12:06pm Reply

    Covent Garden - Balcony Stalls 27 April 1965 - Turandot with Amy Shuard as Turandot and Donald Smith as Calaf

  38. Andie Tromans responded on 27 January 2017 at 4:26pm Reply

    I very much wish that I had been introduced to the wonders of opera as a child. I have always been an avid concert goer: living so close to the fabulous Symphony Hall in Birmingham, it would have been rude not to. However, opera was a mystery to me and I didn't "get it" until a couple of years ago.

    Thanks to the wonders of modern technology and satellite communication, the ROH Live Cinema opened my eyes - and my ears - to music, theatre, musicians and performers who have completely changed my viewpoint.

    My first "full immersion" as part of ROH Live Cinema was "Andrea Chenier" two years ago. I just loved everything about the experience. The production was so rich and elegant and the performers were mindboggling. I now never miss a screened event and also make visits to live performances. I think I now fall firmly into the category of "opera nut".

    "Andrea Chenier" is still my absolute favourite and will forever be "my first, my last, my everything".

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