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Guide To What to Wear on Opening Night

Guide To What to Wear on Opening Night featured image

Photo: Zac Posen and Dita Von Teese at a very glamorous fashion event

It’s not only back to school for students … it’s back to work for a lot of performers, such as the musicians who play in an orchestra, be it with a symphony organization, or in an orchestra associated with an opera or ballet company.

Opening night will be happening with many presenters across the city, including the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, (September 20), Tafelmusik,  (September 20), the Canadian Opera Company  (September 30), and Opera Atelier, (October 25), and countless others across the city.

When I got to concerts, I tend to dress up a little bit, even though business attire is fine. I’ve written about before – article here. At one point in my career, my work was all about attending concerts, and instead of the usual suit, which wasn’t me, (and blazers rarely fit me well) I veered off into every variation of the little black dress I could muster, with some colourful outfits, fabrics that draped well, had interesting cuts, and constantly changing hairstyles.

Opening Night is a whole other thing. To me, it was the one time to bust out that REALLY nice dress you had to buy for a wedding or special occasion that you never get to wear later on. In fact, I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that I used to email my entire department this “fashion state of the union”, starting with “okay, people! GLAMOROUS! Time to DRESS *UP*!” and entailed a long descriptive on what outfits were expected. It actually became a bit of a tradition, to the point that I was requested to send the thing out, even by former colleagues working at different organizations.  I didn’t (and still don’t) mean to sound shallow, but at the time, I was fed up with the endless sea of black suits, on men and women, I’d see at opening night concerts. You’d think you were at a banking conference, not a night out at the symphony.

Movies have depicted going to any classical concert as super formal – usually gala wear. Interestingly, it was rarely the symphony (not visual enough?) or the ballet (too associated with being “girly”?) that was featured – it was always the opera, perhaps because it’s both visual and stereotypically associated with high drama and dying for love (though ballet has plenty of that; maybe it’s the highly emotional singing that gets to people).

For example this is what Ronny and Loretta wore to the opera (La Boheme) in Moonstruck:

Here’s what Vivian, in Pretty Woman, wore, when Edward took her to the opera. This is an extremely formal look. The opera, by the way, was Verdi’s La Traviata, about a prostitute who falls in love with a wealthy man.

In more recent films, here’s Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, the fifth of the MI films with Tom Cruise. The opera was Puccini’s Turandot.

Then there’s Quantum of Solace‘s James Bond, attending Tosca (another “score” for Verdi – see what I did there?):

Note all the men are in tuxedos, and the woman look ready to hit the red carpet at the Academy Awards. This overly heightened representation of what people wear reinforces the idea that one must possess a few ornate designer outfits to attend any classical event. That simply isn’t so, at least not to your average Canadian opera-goer. The only time you’d consider wearing something truly formal would be to a benefit concert, fundraising gala, a New Year’s Eve ball, or some other high-profile special event.

For opening night, I do like to take it up a notch and wear something a tad more elevated than the usual concert look. So don’t be put off by what you see in films. You don’t expect to see Ethan Hunt rappelling down the side of the Four Seasons Performing Arts Centre, nor 007 sprinting through the lobby of Roy Thomson Hall with his gun pointed at the bad guy, so don’t expect you’ll be by far the most underdressed person in the audience.

Here’s a neat chart detailing all the different ways to wear a basic black dress. It also mentions attending the ballet, for once!

Questions about what to wear to opening night?
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