While I do enjoy culture, I don't know if I can say that I am particularly cultured. And yet perhaps that is the reason why I appreciate culture the way that I do. When certain things are new to me, I can either discover them on my own or have my own personal experience with them when I do finally get to experience them. My favorite example: I read Jane Eyre and started connecting with it well before I heard anyone talk about the book or its author or even knew that "Victorian novels" were their own group.
I went to a few plays as a child--probably mostly smaller productions designed for families. But the big one that made me love the idea of plays was Pygmalion by the Southwest Shakespeare Company when I was in high school. Ever since then, I've just really enjoyed the few opportunities I've had to see live productions. I always wish I could see more.
Now, I've been to Santa Fe a few times, but a recent trip I made there was the first time I was able to visit the Santa Fe Opera. We watched Don Giovanni, which I chose because the music is by Mozart and I tend to enjoy Mozart's music (and also because the language is Italian, which feels fairly familiar, which I thought would help make it easier to connect with the music and the story). And oh, my goodness, I had never experienced anything like this before.
I was a little worried going into the first act: though I've always been used to classical music, opera singing is something different. Another level, if you will. I was worried I wouldn't be able to connect with it or that my attention would just wander. Sure, it can take a second to get used to, but it felt surprisingly natural, considering I've never really listened to much opera ("O Mio Babbino Caro" and songs like that don't count the way most classical artists sing them).
The Santa Fe Opera is a half outdoor venue. That is, you enter from the outside, going up steps or through doorways to your section. The two levels of seats and the stage are covered by a ceiling and there are walls to the stage and to a little bit of the seating area but otherwise the sides are open--as is what would be the back wall or background to the stage. As the evening went on, there was some lighting off to the right in the distance, which rather added to the experience. Most people bring a wrap or a sweater because it usually cools off (the show starts at 8:30 and ends close to midnight), but we happened to go on a warm night so it never cooled off (I overheard people saying they had been going there for years and had never seem it so warm).
Attire is varied and there is no dress code but most people dress up. I wore a plain black dress (just below the knee, A-line skirt), a frilly cameo necklace, and tan leather wedges. That outfit fit in perfectly. Comfortable shoes and clothing somewhere between business casual and evening wear. Not a single stiletto in sight but plenty of class. Since I live in an area where people don't really dress up, it was a delight to see everyone so nicely put together.
And the opera itself. The lyrics are, of course, translated on tiny screens on the back of the chair in front of you. This helps immensely and I can't imagine watching without this. The lyrics being in Italian, I did catch a few words here and there--but not much. One thing I had wondered about an opera is how much of it looks like acting and how much just plays like singing. What kind of performance is it? Well, a little bit of both, I guess. There was no talking and yet it wasn't as if the actors were simply singing dialogue: they were performing one song after another (to live music, no less, which is a treat in itself). And they don't just stand there and sing; they move as the characters would move and they interact with one another and walk around the stage and all of that. So you are watching a plot unfold, but it's (in the case of this one, at least) a plot engrained in emotion.
It's like the performers are brewing emotion on the stage and it's pouring out into the audience, a tangible tone that envelops you and holds your senses captive. They were a wonderful set of performers and of course Mozart's music was wonderful, as well. I'll say it again: I had never experienced anything like that. Pure emotion, pure art, pure performance--the opera.