For Opera Lovers

Wednesday, April 14, 2010 - 11:19 AM

I’m looking forward to seeing Madama Butterfly at New York City Opera this Friday night with a special group of WQXR Opera Lovers. Naturally, I’ve been thinking about what to wear.

There was a time when going to the opera was considered to be a formal event. And, everyone dressed accordingly. Nowadays, anything goes. You even see jeans and t-shirts at the opera.

On the one hand, I love the fact that some people are comfortable enough with the music to dress casually. But, I find that I’m distracted if I’m too underdressed. I’m certainly not suggesting a black tie requirement at every performance. But, a well dressed audience can actually add to the experience in a special way, don’t you think?


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Comments [77]

Phyllis Sharpe from Teaneck, NJ

The first opera I saw was Madame Butterfly
performed by the Metropolitan Opera Touring Company in the Univ. of Kansas indoor sports arena with Victoria de los Angeles. Students seats were in the bleachers opposite the stage. My first impression was that de los Angeles was a little too round for the role. But then she sang andd I was enchanted. I don't remember what I wore but it wasn't jeans.

The first opera I saw in NYC was Der Rosencavalier at the old Met with the polished brass railings and red velvet curtains. Again I don't remember what I wore, but not wear blue jeans. I was amazed the first time I saw young audience members in blue denim jeans suits.
I think it is my mother's fault. As a teenager we were only allowed to wear jeans on Saturday when we cleaned house, helped wash the car and bathe the dog.
Today I dress up for opera, ballet and Broadway, but not formal attire. I go to see and hear the performance, not check fashion. Tickets are expensive enough.

Jul. 07 2010 06:10 PM

Hi, Thomas - As I explained to several of the listeners on Friday night, my goal was to honor my father who died on March 19 after 92 incredible years of life. I wore basic black (his 'easy' solution to almost any event) and a beautiful pin which he gave my mother and which they in turn gave to me on my 40th birthday. My mother gave me the matching earrings when I was in Texas the week after he died. My dad took me to my first opera when I was a child. And, he was a lifelong devotee of the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. I thought of him all night long. He would have loved it!

Many thanks to everyone who participated in this blog. It was good fun!


Apr. 19 2010 12:19 PM
Thomas from NW NJ

So....what did Midge wear?

Apr. 19 2010 10:24 AM
Kejneth Bennett Lane from Lake Hiawatha, NJ

Speaking from personal experience, a Wagnerian heldentenor, opera houses in Europe demand, particularly on opening nights of each individual opera production, that the men arrive in formal dress and the women in gowns. This has applied to Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Italy,l the Cuvilles Theatre in Munich, Germany, the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the Festspielhaus at Bayreuth Germany to mention a few. Remember, the earliest patrons of the opera and the symphony halls were the so-called elite, wealthy or of the nobility or, at very least, the well-connected. This was their version of the teenagers prom night where everyone wants to "show their stuff." In such circumstances, display of mink or sable and diamonds and pearls provided/provides the "red carpet" to celebrity ststus. Today, the populace appears to be evern more ravenous about becoming a celebrity for that alone, as if talent or achievement were "beside the point.
Kenneth Bennett Lane, opera composer: "Shakespeare" & "The Political Shakespeare"and director, the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, where actors are trained in the Shakespeare roles and big-voiced singers are coached in the Wagner opera roles.

Apr. 19 2010 08:05 AM
Katie from Bayside, NY

Thank you WQXR, Midge Woolsey, & The NYC Opera for a magnificent night. Madama Butterfly was beautiful and the company was the best and well dressed. We had a marvelous time and hope that WQXR will facilitate more opportunities to get together and enjoy the musical arts in NYC amongst friends.

Apr. 17 2010 09:49 PM
Irene from Queens, NY

I don't think there is a 'right way' to dress for the opera. However, one knows right away when someone dresses inappropriately. Especially in New York,where people are coming from every part of town near and far, tourists, business guests. Everyone trying to catch the performance within their day's schedule. I usually have to come after work. I dress in a nice suit and then change my corporate black standard pumps into my purple sequined pumps. Gotta put on the glitz and have fun!
Enjoy the performance Midge.

Apr. 16 2010 09:48 PM
Joan Carnrick from Caldwell, NJ

In June of 2007 my husband and I were in Budapest, enjoying a Sunday walk, when we happened upon the Budapest Opera House. The city had just come through a nasty heat wave and the opera house was feeling a little stuffy and warm inside, but not bad. We visited the lovely gift shop and learned that it was the last performance of the season that night (I think it was La Traviata). If we waited for cancellations, it was possible to spend some big money on tickets. We were dressed like sloppy tourists, but what the heck. Then the locals began to arrive for the opera. Women in long gowns, men in white linen dinner jackets, even teenage boys in jackets and ties, began filing in. So we put our money away and left. The Hungarians obviously know better.

Apr. 16 2010 06:13 PM
Bob Simms from Colts Neck, NJ

I think operagoers shouold be properly dressed, and I think most people will know what that means. I see it as a matter of respect. Respect for the composers of these great operas. Respect for the performers who spend years developing their voices, acting skills, language, etc. Respect for the conductors and orchestra members. And respect for the opera house management and production workers.

Apr. 16 2010 01:42 PM

As is my habit, I am listening to WQRX and heard Midge Woolsey mention "dressing" for the Opera.

Dressing up is a wonderful thing to do--clothes do "make the man/woman"-yet with our casual dress society one cannot dictate these requirements.

I had given my attire some thought and as it turns out I will wear something that meets all three "requirements" for a this special evening-thematic, comfortable and elegant!

How about---an antique kimono over a black top with leggings-and very high heels of course!!

Apr. 16 2010 01:23 PM
Claire from Hillsdale, NJ

I believe that there is a time and a place for everything and wearing jeans and T-shirts to the opera is not appropriate attire for this type of venue. Let’s face it, it’s not the equivalent of going to a movie. It definitely is a different type of ambience; rich in culture and history. Being that the case, part of the fun is dressing up for the occasion.

Going extremely formal is a matter of choice and circumstance, and I think most opera lovers tend to agree that the extra effort of dressing appropriately to attend a performance gives you the feeling of being part of something special.

Apr. 16 2010 12:05 PM
Bernard Raab from Fort Lee, NJ

My wife and I frequently comment on the casual dress of most theatergoers these days. Even at the Metropolitan Opera, where fancy dress used to be de-rigueur, dress standards have become considerably eroded. Two years ago, as a result of a bonus award for early subscription renewal, we were privileged to have two orchestra seats, normally costing over $300 each. We mused over whether the dress code would be visibly better in those precincts compared to our usual balcony haunt.
Hardly. I was astonished to see a young man one aisle over arrive wearing running shorts and a tank top! Even more astonishing, perhaps, is that he attracted no special attention from his fellow opera lovers, as far as we could see. Amazing!
Bernard Raab

Apr. 16 2010 11:43 AM
Lilly Knuth from Garden City South

Even though casual dressing is more acceptable today, I still feel that certain occasions call for more formal wear. I can remember going to the opera in the 80's and seeing some members of the audience wearing tuxedos. It made the evening even more memorable. Jeans are fine for opera in the park but getting more formally dressed to go the Met helps make it even more enjoyable.

Apr. 16 2010 11:38 AM
Brandon Sussman from Wild New Hampster

Amazing - I did not know about this discussion when I said to my wife 15 minutes age something about dressing to listen to WQXR, expecially when Opera is on.

I grew up with QXR. I am also classically trained. I recently started listening again. I missed it very much.

As an elementary school student I saw Domingo and Scotto in Boheme. I have heard the Boston Symphony play Mahler 'Resurrection' (in the Opera House, not Philarrmonic Hall (I think they call it something else these days)). My 2nd term composition instructor was the accordionist in the very important '76 revival of 'Threepenny Opera".

The world of classical music forms is a classical world. We show respect for that world by dressing for it, not ourselves.

There are comfortable formal clothes. It's a free country but I do not consider them optional.

Apr. 16 2010 11:10 AM
David Jackson from Harlem

Imagine a performer on stage looking out to see an audience dressed in their finest clothes. I feel special when I wear a fine suit and I imagine this feeling translates across the orchestra pit or footlights to the performers and they react to my show of respect to their talent and hard work .

Apr. 16 2010 11:10 AM
Anne Marie from Westchester

I think it enhances the whole experience if the audience shows they care enough to respect the performers and their fellow members by dressing well. This doesn't mean black tie, but not tee shirt and jeans either.

Apr. 16 2010 10:57 AM
Jeff Haller from MIami, Florida

Whatever makes one feel comfortable. I don't care if you are dressed in a tuxedo or cutoffs with a T-Shirt, the exciting thing is that you are at the opera. And we all should be more concerned about the music in the air and the activity onstage than in what someone else is wearing.

Apr. 16 2010 10:52 AM
David from New York City.

Well, it is interested that you talk about dressing for Opera or other theatrical events. I work in theaters in NYC in the front of the house and I see an array of styles from goth to formal dress at Broadway house. It seems the younger theater goers are the ones with the laisaire faire attitude for dress when attending an indoor public performance. We have to admit that the Broadway theater don't come close to the grandeur of the Met's temple of music and therefore can't expect the same rules of dress. But yes, I think one should show some decorum in their appearance when attending the opera today if only to wearing a shirt and tie with Jeans (which can cost $300 a pair today). It isn't the material that matters but how you approach the process of 'dressing'. Almost anything can be accessorized to look glamorous today. So I say, dress to the impress when attending the MET at Lincoln Center, always a special event for me.

Apr. 16 2010 10:19 AM
Robbie from Brooklyn

The first time I ever went to the Met, I was in NYC overnight on business from Vermont and got a wild notion to go to the opera. I had a black T-shirt dress that was sort of OK, but this was a special event for me--even though I got the cheapest ticket available--so I happened to be going by the Housing Works thrift store on Columbus, where I found a nice "little black dress" for $15. It added a lot to my enjoyment of that first, very special occasion to feel I fit in a little better with the lovely decor of the opera house, and it didn't empty my wallet. People should feel free to do what's comfortable for them--for me, dressing up a little added to the magic.

Apr. 16 2010 10:15 AM
C Haase from New York City

I love to dress for the opera when I have the time. I am passionate about opera and often will go last minute, when I hear about a sudden cast change that's interesting, or I free ticket comes my way ( actually happens), or I just need to get me some Puccini quick. That's the great beauty and privilege of living in New York City; you can just decide to go. In these more spontaneous instances I have to go as I am already dressed, sometimes jeans. I always act as though I am dressed up though. I think it's great to have that amazing mix, all there, enthralled with the same sight and sound that is opera.

Apr. 16 2010 10:13 AM

This snobbery is amazing! I go to the opera to experience the performance, not to flaunt my clothes. I show my respect for the performers and the event by getting there on time, not talking or rustling candy wrappers, and listening attentively. I showed my respect by standing through the entire Ring, and dozens of other shows, until I started earning enough money for better tickets.. Those of us in the cheap seats or standing room don't have to worry about the performers being able to see us anyway.

Apr. 16 2010 09:33 AM
Helene Spierman from Valley Stream, NY

One can have some lovely adventures at the opera. My most recent one was on my birthday a few years ago, when I attended a premiere performance at the Met in a bright turquoise silk suit. That night I spotted Henry Kissinger and said hello to him! I also spotted a teacher from my high school (hadn't seen him in... oh, 40-odd years -- and his wife, who had been a princess in a southeast-Asian country.

Not to mention at the Munich Opera, in 1982, when I wore a cute black dress with polka dots and a bright red shawl, meeting a gentleman who had been in German intelligence in WWII.

But my general rule of thumb is to be neat and comfortable, and to wear layers so I can deal with the air conditioning that goes on and off during the performance.

Apr. 16 2010 12:28 AM

If only people were as passionate about opera as they seem to be about how to dress for it, the musical world would be better off.

Apr. 15 2010 05:18 PM
Edward M from Manhattn

For a special gala or formal evening at the opera I would wear what was traditional. For a normal evening at any opera I always wear a dark suit and conservative tie, even if the day has been busy or if I am traveling. If I can manage to go to the most elaborate and expensive performance entertainment that exists, I can dress the part that I am undertaking as a member of an audience in a grand, specially designed space; I can please and complement my companions by looking spiffy and I can pay proper respect to the artists performing by showing that I care about this event and appreciate their artistry enough to make a special and appropriate effort. I regret many others do not share these values because I have lived a long life and seen the joys and benefits of dress-related behavior, and the frequent complements show that other people notice and appreciate them as well.

You will see one of the finest Madama Butterflys that I have ever seen out of maybe thirty or so by several companies. This one is especially wonderful due to the extensive inclusion of a little angel on stage by the name of Eddie Schweighardt as Butterfly's son, Sorrow. I hope it is the beginning of a long career for this talented and beautiful child who enhances the simple focused production immeasurably and will make the tears flow all the more. Enjoy!!! Please read the entries from bottom to top!!

Apr. 15 2010 05:13 PM
Edward M from Manhattan

I personally was sent off to a boarding school from a very working class family. I learned quickly of the arrogance and one-up-man-ship of rich boys, and the school sometimes required up to five changes a day according to what and where we were. I came from a home knowing the meaning and importance of dressing right and learned on top of that to appreciate keenly the value of even small subtleties. I enjoy dressing, colors, styles and the historical perspective of it all. Dressing appropriately has helped me to be accepted at embassies, the White House and with some of the richest and most famous people of our age. I do consider dress as a very real factor in assessing someone, especially upon first impression, and as well in the long run. I also ran a store that sold clothing and often had to instruct the young who were anxious and wanted to do the right thing but were left absolutely stranded and ignorant by parents, current society and standards, a state which only benefits confused issues of all sorts and mass merchandisers. I honestly believe people that dress better think better and are socially more acute. And, that does not mean dressing more expensively at all.

When one receives an invitation the host properly determines what he desires as appropriate and states what level of dress is expected, and if one is a respectful, appreciative guest one complies with those requests or shouldn’t accept the invitation. Traditionally, when attending a performance with musicians, one could wear the level of dress they wore or one below it (ie. if they wore white tie, the audience could be in white tie (tails) or black tie (tuxedos); if the orchestra wore black tie, the audience should be in black tie or dress suits: a suited orchestra brought a suited audience or at least one with jackets and ties, and so on). This all probably sounds pretty Victorian, as it is, and we should remember most of the music and the way we hear it is Victorian style. The Victorians almost completely swept away the “old order” of former empires such as the French which featured wonderful colorful silks and brocades for men to substitute a sobriety and utilize good English mills and wool. I have never and would never wear a t-shirt to any performance except a central park lawn and probably not then either.

Apr. 15 2010 05:11 PM
Edward M from Manhattan

Societal levels effect attitudes in sometimes contrary ways. Poorer people might be every bit as keenly aware of dress and might make more of an effort to avoid looking impoverished, even if they might be hurt and ashamed that they can’t afford better, it is amazing how they will try because they feel the stigma of looking poor and dressing is part of improving themselves. There can be a backlash of refusing to look like what they feel oppressed by, but I think, and experienced as a child, the greater sense to dress as what one wanted to be seen as. On the other hand, richer folk who are accustomed to be able to take for granted differing states of dress often get to feel bored or controlled by custom and propriety so they want to break the rules to show independence or that they are above petty concerns such as dress codes. This is an arrogance that can come off as quirky, sloppy, idiosyncratic, peculiar or eccentric. The shear unpredictability of it for others around them will run from surprise, amusement, annoyance to frustration and disregard or disassociation.

Historical tradition had the upper class conveying their wealth and importance by setting and maintaining the highest standards which helped separate them from all others and distinguish their position in the world. That was amplified whenever there was a substantial middle class which collaborated and helped to codify the rules so that they could more clearly exhibit their own status, and hopefully progress up the ladder towards a recognized goal. As with so many things, it is the middle class that keeps the balance and everything in its place. Until today, when the super rich have largely abandoned their taste setting roll, as adults in general have. What do we have as examples? Politicians, movie stars, often historically ignorant movie stylists, clothing designers who are pandering to annual sales, jock stars, etc. These rich prefer not to have the responsibility of noblesse oblige or don’t want to be identified as the super rich, and the others so need to appeal to popular opinion and the marketplace that they have to dress to the lowest common denominator and exaggerate the “cool” factor to distinguish their own brand. In short we do not today have a lot of good, reliable, meaningful or inspirational exemplars of dress. Very sadly, that also applies to manners and etiquette these days which are both intricately linked to dressing properly!

Apr. 15 2010 05:10 PM
Edward M from Manhatan

Now you can see how wrong we can go if we take this too far! But think how amazing it is to see old photographs of street workman and even ditch diggers, every single one with a hat on!

May I be so difficult to suggest that even your language is slightly off. No one should want to or have to “dress up” unless they are going to a masquerade, a theater production (as an actor) or unless they are pretending to be something they are not. “Dress up” is an innocent mistake taken from mainly little girls' playtimes when they “dressed up” as their mommies or as adults. This is largely an anathema to little boys who usually want to be out with rougher, dirtier activities unless they are playing “doctor!” And men are just bigger little boys. What we all need to learn and want to do is “to dress” well. And to dress well is to dress according to who, what, when, where and with whom we are. If men realized what they telegraph when they have stains on their clothes, shirt tails hanging out, smell like they just got off the field or court, are sockless with scuffed shoes,...These things don’t telegraph independence of thought, artsiness, or pride of place or intelligent hygienics or self respect, nor thoughtfulness and fondness for the friends or place being visited. More likely they convey “I couldn’t afford or be bothered to give a damn!” In our society money rules, but in reality a fine image cuts a greater impression. I will never forget the loud fool arguing with a maitre’d that his silk shirt cost as much as a man’s suit, as if that qualified entry to a coat and tie restaurant. He sealed his expulsion when he escalated his claim that the shirt was worth more than the maitre’d’s tux. It is so sad that so many are deprived of the aesthetic of clothing and think that it is all about money. It is part artistic, part social, ritualistic, communal, among so many aspects that can be enjoyed, and money has little to do with it.

Apr. 15 2010 05:08 PM
Edward M from Manhattan

Dear Midge,

I have had two friends call me about your blog and mentioning that you, in their terms, "unfortunately" mentioned jeans and t-shirts at the opera. My friends knew this would be a hot button topic with me, and indeed, I too winced when you said it yesterday. As if acknowledging something or admitting it actually gives it validity, permission to exist or authentication. Yes, one does see jeans and t-shirts at the opera, but one also sees people chewing gum with their mouths open, or talking on cell phones while driving or even texting during the opera(!), or walking around with their pants falling off or wearing hats in restaurants or hallowed places, and we see many other things that are just pathetic, illegal, inconsiderate or plainly in very poor taste. So, while I am considerate and polite enough not to scoff at the people performing such sights unless I am personally endangered or disturbed, I would probably never address them as existing positively, especially over the “air.”

But of course we live in a “be comfortable,” “anything goes,” “take me as I am” era with clothing dismissed as a mere unnecessary effort, window dressing, or worse, pomposity. It is so very sad that what we have lost in all this "feel good" casualness is pride in our appearance, respect for ourselves, for others around us and for what we are doing, or where we are going, and we have abandoned an artistic sense, if not a potential joy in the sense of presentation, representation and participation of our selves in society. We’ve dumbed down what could be one more of life’s pleasures. Not to mention neglecting to think of representing ourselves as more than slobbily (or sloppily) thrown together, or not bothering to make a special impression for a special occasion or special person, and not even to observe societal rituals.

For some reason people have been allowed or taught to think, largely by their parents, that it really doesn’t matter. Well, way down deep it really does matter! The book is judged by its cover even if subliminally. Friends have conducted interviews for young hopefuls who arrived without socks, in t-shirts or kept their hat on when they should have minimally been in a coat and tie-- they didn’t get the job and such things were noted as an influencing impression! So, we have badly informed the young even if we just want to prepare them for the impressions they make in the world, or at the opera! I think this is pointed up in the numerous recent studies and trends that show school children do much better scholastically and behavior-wise when they in fact are held to and have definite standards and even uniforms. It is not an old wives tale to see dress as an indication of state of mind, orderliness of life and home, finances and even emotional balance and reliability.

Apr. 15 2010 05:05 PM
Ariel from Ramsey, NJ

I agree with you that the audience, and how it is dressed, is part of the opera experience. As a man, I always wear a business suit. This is sufficiently dressy for the occasion but is does not attract attention, as a tuxedo would, in the restaurant afterwards or the subway or bus. My wife finds it a bit more difficult. She wears a cocktail dress that is appropriate for the season. She finds that wearing a long gown is not practical for the same reason that I do not wear my tux. In most restaurants a long gown draws attention and it is too dressy. The bottom line: we wear elegant attire that would score a 6 or 7 on a scale of ten.

Apr. 15 2010 04:02 PM
Janet from Long Island

It's important to be properly dressed because the opera and the other venues at Lincoln Center are s-o-o-o elegant and delicious. Once many years ago my sweetheart and I saved our dollars and went to the opening night gala event for the NYC Ballet. What a lovely, lovely night. I hope you and all the WQXR guests have a spectacular evening tomorrow!

Apr. 15 2010 03:48 PM
Michael C from Garrison, NY

What a wonderful topic! Yes, attending an opera performance is an occasion, but for me, the occasion is hearing and seeing a great theatrical (sometimes) and musical performance, not so much anything else.

It's true that, historically, much of the opera going experience is social with the audience (at least in the orchestra/grand tier/boxes) is composed of the upper echelons of society and business, who will dress accordingly and for 'occasion.' These are people whose names will most likely be on the donor/benefactor lists in your programs. Thank goodness they exist.

But the rest of us? Many of us will be at the performance for other reasons.

Your excursion to see the NYCO Butterfly with the group of WQXR listeners tomorrow night is a special occasion, and I think special occasions warrant special sartorial consideration. I'm attending the Sunday matinee, part of my subscrption. I will be dress comfortably but not for any special occasion.

I say it's more important we have audiences, no matter the dress....because if there are no audiences, there won't be any performances.

Enjoy Nagasaki tomorrow night. I've seen the production. It's lovely and works just as well, but differently, than the gorgeous Minghella show across the plaza.

Apr. 15 2010 02:20 PM
Thea from New Rochelle, NY

While I believe that one should dress appropriately for the opera, as well as ballets, concerts, and the theatre, I don't think formal attire is necessary. Let's remember that for many people, worrying about dressing up only adds to the cost of tickets which are escalating each year. I, myself, used to frequent the MET more, and now very rarely attend due to ticket prices. Verdi wrote his operas for the masses; his arias were melodies sung on street corners by everyone. It's the opera houses which have made it an elitest affair, and now have the problem of deminishing audiences. Think about those people who are willing to stand through at least 3 hrs of performance, up in the family circle or elsewhere in the house - they are the truly devoted opera lovers. Does it really matter what they are wearing?

Apr. 15 2010 02:03 PM
Katie from Bayside, NY

I agree. A night at the opera is an elegant celebration of the genius of the composers and cast, framed by the venue and audience. To contribute to the beauty of the performance, the audience should participate by dressing up.

Apr. 15 2010 02:00 PM

Hi, Midge, I appreciate all things beautiful and have a strong sense of occasion, any and every kind. Going to the opera is one such occasion. How can you effectively enjoy the sparkling fulgency of a musical genius like Puccini without at least possessing some sense of propriety and respect in regards to what you wear. Like others on the blog, I believe the audience is an extension of the characters, orchestra, and conductor on stage. Jeans are fine for a walk in the park, doing laundry, running errands etc., not for a performance of such magnitude and emotional profundity. In honor of Puccini etc....look for me.. I will be there wearing a turn of the century gown, gloves, tiara and if present day couture shops avail, a parasol.

Apr. 15 2010 01:17 PM
cindy hawkins-legorreta

My ex had for many years, a season subscription to the Met and back then I made a special night of dressing up to attend the opera. Some time has passed since then, but I still remember my regulation opera night duds clearly: velvet jacket/silk slacks and blouse/small, tasteful shoulder bag and my 'flamenco' boots. All in black of course - but then I added a silver freeform pin to my left lapel and, a bold, red silk scarf, which, draped nonchalantly round my neck, made me feel 'oh so New York chic and cultured'. Whenever those exquisite 'snowflake' chandeliers were slowly raised into the ceiling, the house lights dimmed and, the opera was about to begin, I remember thinking "there is no place, except perhaps Heaven..that I'd rather be!"

Apr. 15 2010 01:08 PM
concetta nardone from elmont, ny

The opera that hooked me when I was merely 11 years old was from the Texaco opera broadcasts. It was the second scene from Aida, the temple scene. You could almost smell the incense. Hopelessly addicted from that time on.
Best wishes.

Apr. 15 2010 12:55 PM
njz49 from Long Island

My first opera was Aida at the "old" Met when I was 7. Any time I went into the city I had to be dressed, even if it was going to see my grandparents; that meant white gloves, too. Over the years as people and things have changed, I've become very comfortable in jeans & tee shirts, but I still try to dress when I go to any type of performance. I'm not a "little black dress" type of person, but neat slacks and blouse, maybe a jacket.... I don't really mind a neat pair of jeans, but I do think that tee shirts are not appropriate; a nice top isn't so much harder to wear.
By the way, when I go to a concert at the Tilles Center, on the C.W. Post campus, I'm one of the youngest people there - at 61! Let's try to concentrate on involving more younger people, whatever they wear.

Apr. 15 2010 12:07 PM
Patricia Buckley from New York City (Manhattan)

Why would you want to go to the opera in gym clothes? Isn't there something different about the opera or a fine restaurant or church? Don't young people like to differentiate among the various things they do? Young people turn up at St. Bartholomew's in jeans--very rumpled if not dirty jeans. What are they thinking? I am adamant about this. I love having something to dress up for occasionaly.

Apr. 15 2010 12:07 PM
Dean Geaner from Madison Nj

When dressing for Madama Butterfly I feel the audience attire is especially important. I will be wearing angle wings marked up to look like butterfly wings along with a breath taking gown.

BTW Midget I always look forward to listening to your show. Now I will look forward to your blogging as well.

Apr. 15 2010 12:01 PM
Catherine from NYC

I love dressing up for the opera. Not only does it add to the excitement and enjoyment of the evening, but I feel it shows respect for the performers.

In this day and age, too few of us take the time to make an effort with our appearance. Whether one goes to church or synagogue, a graduation, the theater or the opera, or dinner at a friend's home, the vast majority of people dress down. I take issue with those who feel casual clothing such as jeans and t-shirts are perfectly acceptable garb for most social and cultural events. If you don't make an effort to look nice for the special occasions in life, then there is nothing to distinguish going to the opera, the theater, whatever, from cleaning out your garage.

Apr. 15 2010 11:58 AM

How nostalgic to remember when people dressed so elegantly for the opera. How depressing to realize that too many of those people slept through the event for which they were so elegently dressed.

Apr. 15 2010 11:55 AM
John Christiano from Franklin NJ

For decades now, opera has been struggling to make itself an "art form for the masses". It is succeeding. Now, operas can be seen with subtitles or wholly translated into English. Public television has helped enormously.

But, if you're going to try to spread the appeal around, you have to expect that people will accept it on their own terms, i.e., dress the way they see fit.

As the emotion, elegance and drama of opera begins to take hold and grow in a person, they will dress for the occasion to be part of that elegance.

Apr. 15 2010 11:32 AM
Alice from NYC

I went to see L'Etoile recently at the NYC Opera and wore a black dress, tights, heels, and a faux fur shrug. It was fun getting dressing up, and I felt like I fit in with the audience well. I'm also going to see Madama Butterfly tomorrow night and will be dressing up again.

Apr. 15 2010 11:03 AM
Jurgis from upstate NY

Opera is meant for everyone, regardless of means.Let's be happy we have a live audience.
While going to the opera may be an opportunity for some to demonstrate their mindless adherence to dress codes inspired by Madison Avenue and revealed on page two of the New York Times, for many of us who find the price of a ticket to the Met a stretch, a good clean shirt and pants or jeans will have to do. Verdi would be happy just to see us there.

Apr. 15 2010 10:48 AM
Frances Dearing from Tarrytown, NY

I am from a very traditional southern family.
So,my thoughts are dress for the opera should be classic and elegant. Although, I do confess the matinee dress seems very casual. Jeans are not appropriate..even if "dressy."

Apr. 15 2010 09:27 AM
Frank Feldman

I'd be interested to know the historical precedents or lack thereof for fancy formal dress. When nineteenth century opera was contemporary, were the audience members who sometimes booed, hissed, threw tomatoes, blew whistles (Paris Tannhauser), et al. always dressed to the nines? I ask because I sincerely have no idea. Have we perhaps severed opera from its earthier, more proletarian origins? Do you know the answer, Midge? Love your show, by the way.

Apr. 14 2010 08:16 PM
carolyn sielski

When I was performing at the opera, one of pleasures besides singing, was looking out at all the beautiful gowns and dresses in the audience . I feel that dressing up for a special evening enhances the experience for the performers as well. Wearing something very special shows that you care,and that you appreciate the talents on the stage. Sorry, but jeans, sneakers and tee shirts belong in the gym.

Apr. 14 2010 06:30 PM
Marie Brown from Baldwin NY

Dressing appropriately is a mark of respect for the performers, for fellow audience members, and for the institution itself. It doesn't require overdressing, just looking as though you are cognizant of the fact that's it's an occasion.

Apr. 14 2010 04:32 PM
Diana from New Mexico from Grants, New Mexico

My best memory was dressing for an evening performance of Madame Butterfly at the old Met (39th & Broadway) in the early 50's. I wore my beautiful black caracul fur jacket with black taffeta three-quarter length dress, black evening purse, gloves and my best pearls. I recall how beautifully dressed everyone was and it made the memory of that special night still vivid at the age of 83.

Apr. 14 2010 02:49 PM
Matt Klein from Ithaca, NY

The discussion about opera attire reminds me of an experience I had in my 20s. From time to time, I used to spontaneously pick up a standing ticket to a Met performance. As a result, I would end up attending in whatever I happened to be wearing. Not a T-shirt and shorts, by any means, but also not what I would wear at the opera anywhere other than the shadows of the standing rail.

It was there I happened to to be milling after the conclusion of the first act of Turandot, when a woman offered me her row-J ticket. I was astonished and abashed, but... what could I do? Of course, I accepted the offer and walked slowly down the aisle with the ticket held in front of me like a shield to ward off any challenges to this groundling's right to move forward.

I have to admit that my presence did lower the prestige of the neighborhood a bit, and at least one fellow seemed to be thinking "There goes the neighborhood!" Then the lights went down, and I was the closest I have even been to that storied stage, and all those concerns melted away into the magical performance.


Apr. 14 2010 02:27 PM
Rick from Kennett Square

Dressing nicely is also way of showing respect ... for your date, for the players and everyone else in the house. It shows you care. It's the visual opposite of the statement, "whatever!"

And this applies to better restaurants, too, where one almost certainly receives better service than those in jeans and t-shirts.

Apr. 14 2010 02:17 PM
Patrick, NYC from NYC

In the late 1970s, when prime orches-

tra seats were under $30, my late

friend--from Wash, DC, attended

a perf of 'Andrea Chenier' in clean,

pressed Levis.

During the first act, he shushed a

talkative matron. At intermission,

she scowled to her male companion,

'He has his nerve shushing me--the

way he's dressed.'

To which, he replied: 'Excuse me,

m'am. I heard your comment. I paid

for my ticket, the same as you.

I'm entitled to hear the opera in


Oh, by the way, I never cared for

Polyester blends.'

Apr. 14 2010 02:16 PM
Geoff Berresford from New York

As a young concert-goer years ago I went to what turned out to be a season opening concert, and I saw a man in a tuxedo (probably a patron) having a lovely chat with a young man in (neat clean) jeans (probably a student). I was very impressed at the unstuffyness of the older man, not caring about the dress of his conversation partner. I was quite moved by the degree of acceptance of two music lovers. I feel that one should wear whatever (neat clean) clothes one chooses - the point is to go and to love the music, dressed according to your own choice.

Apr. 14 2010 02:11 PM
kathey peterson from Rockford, Illinois

I was fortunate to to attend "Lucia" at the Met in 1972 and it was definitely an unforgettable dress-up occasion. I live in the Midwest and now attend the Live in HD performances (every one) and of course, in the movie theater setting, the dress is casual. Although, I have noticed the more senior members of the audience still dress as they would for church at least. The matinee audiences at the Met in N.Y. dress very casually (some too casually). That seems to be a function of our culture these days. I am glad to see more young people and even children in attendance , but I would like to see the dress code upgraded some in deference to the opera experience.

Apr. 14 2010 02:10 PM
John Jerome from Midtown

I always wear a jacket. But! I love it when I see young people in the audience. If people are to dressed up, it can auidience lok strange to these young people. They should feel that "normal" everyday people love the opera and don't take themselves so seriously. Opera should be funm and about the music. Even in church now it is jeans. But that keeps the young people. We need to show that it is all about the music, and keep opera alive.

Apr. 14 2010 02:09 PM
Bill Olson

Several years ago I bought a trio for the Met. My wife and I dressed in black dress and dark blue suit. When we walked around at intermission, we came a cross a visually impaired woman and her seeing eye dog, who was wearing a bow tie. The Met deserves the best you can bring to it; it's one of the greatest treasures of New York.

Apr. 14 2010 02:06 PM
concetta nardone from Elmont, NY

Show respect for the enormous work involved in staging an opera. The audience should not show up looking like a bunch of hobos. Wear your best duds. Enough of this casual dress baloney.
Best wishes,
Connie Nardone

Apr. 14 2010 02:06 PM
Nancy Wilken from New York

Having been an opera subscriber for over 30 years, dismayed at the "costumes" worn @ The Met that worsens each year. Although now not accompanied by my husband due to death, I still go to the trouble of either wearing the "old" business clothes with pumps or at least, the simple basics of Black & White, especially making the blouse, whatever, festive, sexy but not vulgar exposure although the men still like the display of cleavage for they'll never change (you can look sexy without looking somewhat for sale). Good taste with beautiful shoes that are comfortable, e.g., the Audrey Hepburn flats. A simple fur jacket can be appropriate in cold weather, if one possesses one!

Apr. 14 2010 02:01 PM
John & Peg from Long Island, NY

Thank you for bringing up this subject. We are with you! It does make the evening more festive when the audience dresses for the occassion, not only for the opera, but the theater, concerts and restaurants as well.

Apr. 14 2010 01:53 PM
Harriet Mandel from Riverdale, New York

Dear Midge,

You are a precious part of our lives, which is enriched by your grace, passion and love of music. Thanks! I'm in total agreement with dressing for the opera! But, alas, what to do? Informality has taken its toll on the total Met experience. We're regulars at the opera on Saturday nights when the thrill of dressing up was part of the experience at one of the world's great cultural institutions! The jeans are a sore sight and, in a way, disrespectful. The Met deserves elegance! Any ideas are welcome! Harriet

Apr. 14 2010 01:46 PM
James Sadler from midtown

Thank you Ms Woolsey! The opera is one of humankind’s great accomplishments and to dress beautifully is to give it the respect it well deserves. I myself wear a business suit, enhanced by cufflinks, fairly simple. However it is always a joy for me to see men or women taking the time to be creative. Remember with joy the flamboyance of the courts of Europe? So dress beautifully and enjoy your night at the opera. And yes jeans and tea shirts should be politely discouraged, yes even banned!

Apr. 14 2010 01:35 PM
Ellen Christine from New York City

Please dress up, people. As a frequenter, aficionada, and outright lover of all things Met related, we love to get fancied up. What an atmosphere, what a venue, what history to wrap yourself into. Like the perfect evening coat, the Metropolitan Opera sits on the shoulders like a weightless magic cloak. Why not dress up for the occasion?

Apr. 14 2010 01:28 PM
David from New York

The problem is not just Opera. Over the past ten years, down dressing has become common at Broadway shows and gourmet restaurants, as well. I’ve heard that down dressing started with the geeks at Silicon Valley, or maybe it was the “Permissive Society” of the 60’s. Personally, I believe that this practice diminishes the event. Like you, I wouldn’t want to be required to ware black tie, but a jacket would be nice, Jeans, T shirts, and shorts should be banned.

I hope you enjoy the Opera on Friday.

Apr. 14 2010 01:25 PM

Miss Woolsey, I agree with you. When I attend opera or symphony orchestra performances at Lincoln Center, I generally wear a sports jacket, dress shirt, permanent press slacks, and one of the neckties that my daughter has given me as gifts. Like you, I'm not comfortable at the opera house if I'm dressed for a backyard barbecue. I have even had to get used to the idea of orchestra members wearing tuxedos rather than evening tails, even if they're not so visible in the orchestra pit. Sometimes a nod to formality and tradition is appropriate, don't you agree? Of course, it hasn't been that long since the audience and orchestra would have been dressed identically in formal evening wear.

And some day, you and I will be properly introduced, get to know one another, and I can address you as "Midge." I hope that day comes soon!

Tom Bias

Apr. 14 2010 01:22 PM
Tom Heitman from Jersey City

Right on Midge!!!

Sadly, the cats outta duh bag. I do not think you would be able to enforce a dress code anymore. Not even sure you would really want to. But, I completely agree that it feels better when we are all dressed up. Perhaps some performances could be called 'Formal Events'. Maybe like "A Formal Evening with Puccini". Yuh know, just kinda suggest that yuh may wanna think twice about what yuh wear to that particular performance.

Apr. 14 2010 01:19 PM
ilva from NY

I would say the appropriate dress attire for the opera would at least the same as a cocktail party and there should definitely be no place for jeans or t-shirts. Please leave those for hanging out with friends at the bar or the barbeque. This is the way we can show some respect and appreciation for the music, the artists and why not for the rest of the audience.

Apr. 14 2010 01:19 PM
shayna alterman

my husband and i dress nicely for the opera. the europeans we see there dress VERY nicely. many of the younger people come from work and they wear business attire, which is fine.
anything less than jacket and tie and corresponding womens' clothes distress me. it shows lack of respect for the performers and venue.
now, my friends and i have been attending the Met Opera Live in local movie theaters.
sometimes the floor is littered, there's gum under the seats and some stray popcorn lying around. What sort of dress code would you suggest?

Apr. 14 2010 01:18 PM
Victoria from southport,ct

Shoes are everything and set the pace for the rest of the outfit. What style, comfort level do you need to get you through the city, hours of up and down, then back home. Shoes and good posture mean whatever you wear will be elegant - even a good, crisp pair of jeans - black, with a beautiful ruffled white top. Pick a great pair of comfortable elegant shoes and go from there.

Apr. 14 2010 01:18 PM
James Roe

Dear Midge-
Living on West 70th for 33+ years has
made me very spoiled, since I consider
Lincoln Center my local "fiefdom of cul-
ture". It does sadden me to see members of the audience in "movie house" attire.

My way of thinking is not about the rest of the house as much as it ME showing MY Respect for the Performing Artists...
be it LCntr., CityCenter, the Joyce or any is great that in our lives we have seen the breadth of diversity in live per-
formances; hate to sound like a snob, but sweat pants with matching "puffy ink"
pastel sweat shirts and sneakers is an
issue emblematic with visitors~ they do not
seem to "get it"; as well as our "bridge and tunnel" guests...would they attend a house of worship dressed so casually?

Give me Cher in that burgundy velvet and
the whole look in "Moonstruck" any day-
THAT was classy, and a "kudos" from
the audience to the artists. Dressing with
some thought puts ME in a more receptive mood, and I enjoy the evening ever more so! Good topic!


Apr. 14 2010 01:18 PM
Thomas from NW NJ

Hi Midge
I am a frequent attendee at the NYC Ballet and always wear a jacket and tie. Of course black tie is the proper attire for the gala events. But I am frequently appalled at how slovenly people dress for performances on a routine basis. I'd suggest a smart suit or proper evening wear. But as you are a benchmark for class and good taste I'm certain whatever you choose will have heads turning.

Apr. 14 2010 01:17 PM
Shirley from Lynbrook, Long Island

I really miss those excuses to dress up from long ago. Surely, opera goers have clothes in their closets suitable for going to a cocktail party, engagement or holiday party. I think the younger crowd today has never figured out how to pull it all together so they take the lazy way out. Too bad, bcause for me, it was lke going to an Oscar party.

Apr. 14 2010 01:17 PM
George Damasevitz from Endicott, NY

Midge- are you watching other people or the opera? If the latter, how could you be distracted by the former?
I could watch people in New York anywhere. But when I go to the opera, I'm pretty focused.Besides, it's pretty dark in there.

Apr. 14 2010 01:16 PM
Marie Califano from NYC

Going to the opera for me is always a special event - whether the Met or City Opera ( or even the Amato). I am very disappointed with the casual dress code at the opera (and theater, concerts etc). My husband and I always dress up (not black tie) at minimum he wears sport jacket and slacks and I wear skirt or dress slacks - and by the way we are not seniors yet!!

Apr. 14 2010 01:16 PM
Joyce Szymanski

I too do not feel comfortable "under" dressed. When in doubt I am a big fan of dressing a black dress either up or down by accessorizing accordingly with interesting jewelry, pearls, etc. For the past 4 years I take my grand-niece to a play every summer and from the beginning I insisted she wear a dress. After doing this two years in a row she as come to expect and enjoys getting dressed for the theater. I hope this stays with her for years to come.

Apr. 14 2010 01:15 PM
Ed Simon from Plainview, NY

I think it adds some distinction when everyone's dressed up. I saw Butterfly on a Saturday nite and wore a suit, while there were some people in Khakis and jeans, which made it just a get together rather than an event. I also think that when the people on stage and in the orchestra see that the audience is dressed up they take it as a "thank you - I appreciate the great music", and may be some incentive to even perform better than their usual greatness.

Apr. 14 2010 01:12 PM
Marie from Briarcliff

I'll be attending with you Friday evening and I agree--it's the total experience. A beautiful audience is part of the setting. (I'll be wearing the NY uniform--little black suit).
Remember how gorgeous Cher looked at her first opera experience in "Moonstruck".
Well, maybe we can't come up to that but it's our civic duty do do our best. See you there.

Apr. 14 2010 01:10 PM
Paul from New Jersey

Hi, Midge, I myself feel it a grave disappointment to see people at the opera in jeans, t-shirts, even shorts! I think one should dress up a bit for such an occasion. I hope you enjoy Madame Butterfly at NYCO. I so enjoy listening to you on the radio. All the best ~

Apr. 14 2010 01:10 PM
Richard Viano

Dressing for Madama Butterfly -- simple -- something Japanese, even as simple as a silk scarf -- no knives please

Apr. 14 2010 01:09 PM

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