All You Need to Know To Go to An Opera or To a Concert in Italy

| Wed, 10/06/2021 - 01:56
at the cinema

Summer is over, but the theatrical season is just about to begin. A particular love of the Italians of drama and music makes Italy a perfect destination for your cultural holidays. In this article, we’re going to discover useful vocabulary for your perfect Saturday night a teatro (at the theatre) in Italy.

First of all, it’s time to get a ticket – un biglietto. You can stop by a ticket office – una biglietteria, but keep in mind that most popular dates and performances sell out in advance. Most theatres in Italy have online ticketing, so it will not be a problem. Let’s see what kind of performances – spettacoli – you can visit:

Il balletto – ballet

la commedia – comedy

la tragedia – tragedy

il musical – musical

il concerto sinfonico – symphonic  concert

and of course

l’opera – opera

The musicality of the Italian language has made the Italian opera loved all over the world, so where else to enjoy an opera if not in its homeland?

What genres of opera are there? The most known are:

l’opera seria – dramatic opera

l’opera buffa – comic opera

l’operetta – light opera

If you’re new to the opera world, but love musicals, you can opt for an “operetta”, as for one of the most light genres. But no matter what type of opera you choose, theatre is a place where you have to take seriously what you wear. “La Scala”, just like any other theatre in Italy, is not a place for shorts and T-shirts. Opt for an abito da sera (an elegant dress or suit). The more modest your seat is, the less formal your attire can be. 

As for the seats, how do you choose one? Let’s see how a theatre hall is structured inside:

il palcoscenico – stage

la fossa d’orchestra – orchestra pit

la platea – stalls

la prima galleria – circle

la balconata – balcony

il palco – boxes, if you want to make your night even more special

When you arrive at the theatre, you may want to leave your coat at a cloak room and ask for a programme to get to know l’argomento (subject) in advance. Here are some useful phrases:

Dov’è il guardaroba? – Where’s the cloackroom?

Potrei avere un programma, per favore? – Could I have a programme, please?

A che ora finisce lo spettacolo? – What time does the performance finish?

Each opera performance is divided into two or more acts by an intermission – l’intervallo, during which the audience – gli spettatori, is free to move around. It is a great opportunity to order a drink at the theatre bar. You can ask your companion:

Hai voglia di ordinare qualcosa da bere per l’intervallo? – Would you like to order some drinks for the intermission?

But don’t be late for the next act. But how does opera actually work? Any opera will start with il preludio (the prelude). Il preludio is the moment when the orchestra with the conductor – direttore d’orchestra (also “maestro”) accompanies the audience into the story of the opera. No need to say, that your smartphones should be silenced by then . The prelude can be followed by:

il coro – choir

l’aria – aria

recitativo – recitative

ensemble (“insieme” – together) – ensemble

The main heroine of the opera is called la Prima Donna  (literally “the first woman”), in an opera she usually has a soprano voice and sings the highest notes, while the main male character is called il tenore, which is also the highest voice for men.

The other voices are:

Baritono – baritone, a singer with a deep, rich voice, often playing an antagonist, a villain.

Basso – the lowest and the deepest voice, usually belonging to old and wise male characters, while older female characters and even witches are usually played by female singers with a contralto voice.

Controtenore is a male voice, which uses a vocal technique called falsetto.  

Mezzosoprano is a female voice used mainly by secondary characters.

Leitmotiv is a recurring musical theme appearing throughout the opera, which represents  an idea or a character’s mood. It’s usually a melody that will pop up in your mind for the next few days after the performance and every time you will think about the opera you enjoyed. It’s important for the audience to know when it’s appropriate to applaud – applaudire. L’applauso (applause) is welcomed at the end of an aria, an act and of certainly when the opera arrives at il finale – the end. Remember that the adjectives have to agree with the nouns in Italian? So, if you wish to, you should shout “Bravo!” only to a male singer, while “Brava!” is good for a female character. When you applaud a group you should use “Bravi!”.

At the end of the performance don’t forget to ask your companions if they liked it:

Ti è piaciuto? / Vi è piaciuto?  - Did you like it?

Cosa ti è piaciuto di più? – What did you like best?

You, in your turn, can answer with: “Mi è piacuto”. (I liked it) or “Non mi è piaciuto” (I didn’t like it), which is the answer to avoid when speaking with Italians. Remember that “L’opera Italiana è la migliore del mondo” (The Italian opera is the best in the world). Learn this phrase by heart as it will help you make friends with most Italians you meet on your way. 

Hopefully, you found this article helpful to introduce you to the world of Italian opera and theater, so you’ll enjoy these special nights in Italy and will be able to talk about this unique experience. Stay with us to discover more curiosities about the Italian culture and language, and keep practicing!


This language article is curated by the expert instructors from L'Italiano Porticando Italian language and culture school located in the heart of historic Turin. Accredited by the ASILS (Association of Schools Teaching Italian as a Second Language), L'Italiano Porticando offers individual and group lessons, themed courses, and cultural classes on everything from Italian cinema to Turin’s famed chocolate.