A Beginner's Guide to the Pittsburgh Opera

A Beginner's Guide to the Pittsburgh Opera

Everything you need to know about the Pittsburgh Opera!

Is your first thought of the opera people in stuffy suits having their glasses crack as singers hit the high notes? Fear not. We are here to help ask the hard questions (and provide some pretty simple answers). 

Forget everything you think you know about the opera as we get you ready for the Pittsburgh Opera's next performance.


What is opera?

At its core, opera is simply storytelling with music and singing. Think of an opera as a musical, but the singers don’t use microphones and there is a live orchestra playing the music.

So it's like a musical or a play?

Opera is the ultimate performing art. It basically combines all the other performing art forms and rolls them into one. 

A symphony orchestra can play a beautiful piece of music, but doesn’t usually have a story to it. A staged play will have a plot, and sets, costumes and acting, but typically no singing or live music – the actors are just talking. The cast in musicals typically use microphones to amplify their voices, whereas opera singers generally sing without amplification and have to project their voices over a 70-piece live orchestra playing in the pit. Opera has all the above, plus often choreographed dancing. 

Are all operas the same?

Opera comes in all shapes and sizes. Pittsburgh Opera performs in up to four different venues each season. On one end of the spectrum are the big, grand operas which can only fit on the Benedum stage – Carmen, La bohème, The Barber of Seville. But they also perform intimate chamber operas in their own building for just 200 audience members.

Pittsburgh opera's latest season included operas about mermaids, knights, revenge, refugees and social justice making each performance unique and appealing to different audiences.

Credit: David Bachman Photography for Pittsburgh Opera

Clearing up Misconceptions

I won't understand what's going on!

The Pittsburgh Opera makes this easier than you'd imagine. They run supertitles above the stage so you can read along with the flow of the show.

But isn’t opera expensive? 

No! While the best seats in the house can be pricey, Pittsburgh Opera offers adult tickets as low as $15. Tickets for kids ages 6-18 are half-price. Plus, Pittsburgh Opera offers a multitude of discounts for students, groups and other folks. 

Don't I have to wear a tux?

Relax. The days of dressing up in your finest, wearing a tiara and carrying opera glasses are long gone. On a weeknight, work clothes are just fine. On a weekend, jeans are as appropriate as dresses and suits. It's your call on this one. Wear what makes you comfortable.

Is this homework? It feels like homework!

Hold on, this is supposed to be fun! You are going to the opera for entertainment, but getting some education is a natural byproduct of your experience. Embrace it! 

We recommend listening to the opera in advance. Stream the opera on Spotify. Go to YouTube and watch video clips of other productions just to familiarize yourself with your show. Enjoy the immersion!

These were all written by dead white guys!

Certainly some dead white European males have written many of the most famous operas – people like Mozart, Verdi and Puccini. 

But composers and librettists from around the world of all creeds, colors and genders are churning out new operas at a remarkable rate – in fact, we are living through an unparalleled period of opera creation. It’s not unusual for half of the operas in Pittsburgh Opera’s recent seasons to have been written within the past 10 years, by a diverse group of creators. 

Credit: David Bachman Photography for Pittsburgh Opera

Enjoying the Pittsburgh Opera

How can I buy tickets?

Use the Cultural District's central ticket purchase service. If you need advice and want to talk to someone about seat locations, the ticket hotline is 412-456-6666.

If you’d like to buy your tickets in person while the Theater Square box office is under construction, you can visit the Benedum Center Box office on 7th Street. Its hours are Mon-Sat 10 a.m.-6 p.m. or until 30 minutes past showtime, Sun noon-4 p.m. or until 30 minutes past showtime.

Should I Bring Friends?

Yes, the more the merrier! The opera is the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion or just have a fun night out with your family, friends, or colleagues. Pittsburgh Opera’s group discounts start with just six people and bringing a group also unlocks special perks like backstage tours, private lounge spaces, and more. It’s easy to elevate your opera outing and make lasting memories by sharing the experience with more people in your life. 

Where can I stay?

Coming from out of town for a getaway? You're in luck. There are plenty of downtown hotels to choose from, within walking distance of the Cultural District. All the major brands are there, from renovated historic buildings to ultra-modern skyscrapers. Check out our comprehensive hotel listings.

Where do I park?

Plan ahead. Use the ParkPGH app which shows real-time availability and prices for Downtown garages. There are also a number of metered spaces throughout town and the Go Mobile PGH app is a great tool for fast and convenient payment.

Where should I sit?

Again, this is a personal preference. Pricing is obviously a consideration, as are sightlines and your need to get up close and personal or being farther away to appreciate the entire production. If the broader view is better for you, then pricing and views from Orchestra floor or First Tier provide good options. If you want to feel like the queen, sit in the front of the Director's Circle.

Credit: David Bachman Photography for Pittsburgh Opera

How do I learn even more?

Here's where the opera company gives you even more assistance. Prior to every show, one hour before the curtain rises, experts give you some context, basically the where, when, and why of the opera you are about to see. It's right in front of the stage, you sit nearby, listen closely and prepare yourself for what's to come.

It's also a good idea to go on the opera website and read about the production, the story it tells and the nuances of what you are going to see. The site has lots of background info, videos, insight on the cast and more. There is also a study guide written by the opera's education team, giving you even more of the scoop. Locally, WQED-FM does a preview show twice prior to each opera production. This is a half-hour show, hosted by Anna Singer, featuring interviews with production personnel and performers.

Any other helpful hints?

Productions held on Tuesday evenings have receptions following the show with artists and staff attending. These are in the Benedum Center lobby. You can ask questions and get to know the folks who have just entertained you. Oh yes, one last thing, it's free!

Enjoy your visit to Pittsburgh Opera!

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