« Signature Theatre's 3rd annual Stephen Sondheim Award goes to Patti LuPone | Main | Second Annual Lieder Weekend at An die Musik explores birth of the genre »

October 20, 2011

Opera fan urges campaign to dress up for the art form

OK, Baltimore opera-goers. Listen up. Get those mirrors out well before you leave home on Nov. 4 to attend the opening night of "La Traviata," Lyric Opera Baltimore's inaugural production.

Take a good look at what you've got on and ask yourself a simple question: Does this outfit match the event? Would Rosa Ponselle be pleased to see me dressed like this?

I got an interesting email on the topic of attire that I thought was well worth sharing.

Now don't jump to conclusions or start ranting about elitism. Hear the guy out:

My wife and I were longtime season ticket holders for the Baltimore Opera Company and were very disappointed when they went belly-up a few years back. We then became season ticket holders for BSO and have generally been pleased with their performances and really appreciate Marin Alsop and her style.

We are, however, disappointed at the continued level of dressing down for formal concerts. Even at the Baltimore Opera, attendees’ dress code was going downhill toward the end.

Well, it is now 2011 and opera is back starting November 4 with La Traviata by Lyric Opera Baltimore. Hooray!

The purpose of this e-mail is to ask you to start a campaign to make Lyric Opera Baltimore GRAND OPERA. I said that if opera came back I was going to get a tux, and I have done so. I am hoping that you can get the word out for opera lovers to dress UP not DOWN for Grand Opera. I hope I am not the only one with a tuxedo on November 4.

Jim Ireland

Personally, I am of two minds about the issue Jim has raised.

I do get a little tired of seeing the super-casual, occasionally downright trashy, fashion sense of some opera- or concert-goers, and not just in Baltimore. I do think that going at least a little above the level of lounging or recreation attire is appropriate and can actually make you feel better about the event you're attending. This doesn't mean formal wear, of course, just tasteful, respectful wear.

On the other hand, I want anyone and everyone to enjoy symphony, opera, theater, so I'd hate to make folks feel they don't belong if they're not dressed up.

But I love Jim's enthusiasm for such a good old-fashioned cause. There is something special about the arts, and when the genre in question is grand opera, it doesn't seem unreasonable to ask for a touch of style in the audience. So I hope Jim spots a few other tuxedos in the Lyric Opera House Nov. 4. (I might be inclined to join him, but my tux somehow shrank while it was in the closet.)

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:54 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Clef Notes, Opera


Tim and Jim,

I agree though I personally don't like tuxedos... My preference is for a nice and simple business suit.

Opera is one of humankind’s great achievements and to dress beautifully is to give it the respect it well deserves. Remember with joy the flamboyance of the courts of Europe?

I think operagoers should 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

I believe that there is a time and a place for everything and wearing jeans and T-shirts should be politely discouraged.

Thanks for commenting. I agree that tuxes all the time would be a bit much, and I don't think Jim would propose that. I think it's more about the opening night for a new company being so special. And that, beyond the first night, it wouldn't be a bad thing if people dressed up for all the performances. As you say, it's a matter of respect. TIM

First, I should admit to my own fashion lapses in the past when I've attended opera but didn't feel like dressing up too much. I still tried to dress neat casual, but I could tell you a story about being looked up and down with obvious disapproval by none other than Maestro Fricke one night in the Grand Foyer of the Kennedy Center. (The long trek from Columbia to the Kennedy via Metro also discouraged dressing up too formally.)

There are different ways to look great: One night at WNO, I sat near a young guy dressed in striped dress shirt, neat fashion jeans and polished cowboy boots. He looked just fine.

I support the dressing up proposal, but I'll be in very neat business casual or a suit myself, with or without tie.

I'm of two minds here. As one who spends a lot of time trying to actively promote classical music to a broader audience, my first instinct is to say "come as you are," in order to try to overcome some of the preconceived notions regarding classical music fans being elitist. That said, my mamma taught me how to dress for church, and how to dress for soccer practice...and how the two should only intersect during exteme moments of schedule mismanagement (also learned that it was better to go to church in your sweatpants and feel a little guilty about it, than not go at all). I personally don't feel comfortable at the symphony or the opera in jeans....going to hear fantastic live music like this is an's not like going to the movies. Sports fans put a lot of thought into making sure that they are appropriately decked out in their team colors, why should we not devote the same energy and thought (or more) to what we wear to the opera or the symphony? Today, as I sit behind my desk on "casual Friday," I am comforably dressed in jeans and a sweater...after work, I will pick up my wife, feed the kid, pay the babysitter, and find time to put on a suit before heading to hear the symphony tonight...I'm not going to worry too much about what other people are wearing, but I'm going to know that my mother wouldn't be embarrassed by they way I look.

For the opera in November...I'll be in a tuxedo, at least for Acts I & II, then...I'll drive home in jeans...but, I'll be on the stage, not in the audience....they don't let you pick what to wear when you're up there! I would much rather look out and see blue-jeans than empty seats, but I know that when my boy is old enough to be in the audience, he'll be in his church clothes.

Oh please! If you want to wear a tuxedo or a long gown to go to a night at the opera or symphony, by all means do so. Just don't look down on me because I dress casually. I don't feel at all comfortable wearing even a coat, dress shirt and a tie, let alone a penguin suit, and I don't see why that should be an issue to someone else. The same goes for church (and this from a preacher's kid). The bottom line is that I want to see people attending church and concerts and I'm perfectly comfortable with everyone being comfortable — whatever that means for you. My advice is to concentrate on the performance and stop being a fashion critic.

Lighten up Bob Thomas. I am not advocating that all people wear "penguin suits" and ball gowns. I just think that it can be FUN to be part of the splendor of Grand Opera and that anyone who was thinking maybe it would be FUN to get out the formal attire should know that there are others out there who are also considering doing so.

I am not advocating looking down at those in less formal attire. I just want others to know that it's OK to dress UP once in a while and that opera is a good venue for it.

Hear, hear! TIM

There are plenty of tuxes to be seen worn by first-nighters at the Washington opera, and there are always some tuxes at the Met, although they are more common at performances of Wagner than of Verdi for some reason -- why should not we wear tuxes for the new opera in Baltimore if we have them?

It's actually a very comfortable outfit, if it fits reasonably well, and most men look better in a tux than in just about anything else. It simplifies things really -- when my wife and I went to the Met some years ago to hear the Ring within a week's time, she had four different elegant outfits to wear, while I just wore a tux. I varied the formal shirts a bit, and folded my pocket square differently for each opera, but that was the extent of my variation. We looked great, if I do say so myself, and we had a terrific time (and the operas weren't bad either).

So come November 4 we'll be at the Lyric for the new company, and we'll be dressed for the occasion.

Hooray for Jim Ireland! Tim & Brendan, you made some great points, too.

My husband & I would never even think of going to the opera, the symphony, or a "fine dining" restaurant in jeans any more than we'd head out the door for a 10-mile run in evening clothes. Like Brendan, we were raised to dress for the occasion. Of course, the fact that both of us love clothes doesn't hurt!

Formality & appropriateness aside, it's boring to wear the same clothes all the time. Would you want to eat the same food every day, for every meal? Listen exclusively to one composer's music... forever? I didn't think so.

These days, one can spend several hundred dollars on a pair of jeans or a sweatshirt (visit the websites of stores like Saks, Barneys, & Bergdorf if you think I'm kidding) so perhaps casual dressing is the new elitism. I'll stick with my vintage dresses, thanks.

Thanks for the lively points. TIM

Mrs. Phelan and I will be attending the Minnesota Opera tomorrow evening, dressed our best. When we dress up, we show that an occasion is important. Do you give any thought to your dress before a job interview? Or when meeting your girlfriend's parent for the first time?

I'll be in sharp navy pinstripe suite; she'll be in a beautiful dress, seamed stockings and heels. While I'm smart enough to not judge others' dress, it does detract from the atmosphere when it looks like they just came from Target.

Eighteen months ago we went to Cinderella on a Saturday night in October and the crowd looked dazzling. Other performances since then have been disappointing.

Eighty dollars a ticket and you can't even find a shirt and tie or a dress?

A year ago a friend's sister died. Another friend showed up at the wake in jeans and clean but not the best shirt. He explained he'd just been told about the wake and came right from work. Of course we we're just glad he'd come. I had found out a day before so i had time to put on a shirt and tie, which showed the deceased's family that their loss was important to me. As an electrician, it's not my normal garb

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
View the Artsmash blog

Baltimore Sun coverage
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop
Famous faces in classical music
Sign up for FREE entertainment alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for nightlife text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Weekend Watch newsletter
Plan your weekend with's best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV picks and more delivered to you every Thursday for free.
See a sample | Sign up

Most Recent Comments
Stay connected