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Classical 101

How Not to Direct an Opera

Thomas Bradley-WOSU Public Media
Classical 101 host, Christopher Purdy shares a few dos and don'ts for directing opera.

I have just finished directing an opera. The performances were enjoyed by full houses. Everything went well, and this wasn't my first time at the rodeo.

I send you herewith a few dos and don'ts for the next time you direct an opera:


  • Forget to bring the Snickers bars. Church rehearsal spaces frown on popping a cold one at fraught rehearsals. Chomp on candy instead.
  • Annoy the volunteer treasurer or photographers of the organization unless you want to look both fat and impoverished.
  • Expect anyone except a few of the principal singers to know the opera.
  • Shout stage left to the chorus and then move stage right to demonstrate
  • Try to curse in the language of the opera. You'll just sound like you need another fistful of M&Ms. Use Anglo-Saxon cuss words, if you must.
  • Laugh or make remarks if cast members 'pair off.' 
  • Have a stroke when the orchestra goes on break mid phrase.
  • Listen to Pavarotti or his like singing the opera on which you are working. He and Callas and Sutherland are in heaven. They can't help you now.
  • Pace


  • Pace (it's good exercise)
  • Smile all the time.
  • Be nice to everyone.
  • Always smile and laugh at bad notes.
  • Thank God for lighting designers.
  • Thank God A LOT for stage managers.
  • Tell everyone: "You are all doing a wonderful job!"
  • Smile and nod when the orchestra goes on break mid phrase.
  • Try not to kill anyone while following all of the above on this DO list

Most importantly, do not forget how privileged you are to serve in Music and Drama with wonderful people; your colleagues and your audience. THEIR PLEASURE IS ENOUGH REWARD.
The experience is addictive, but not fattening.

Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.