Opera and Endurance Sports: Training for Your Mind and Body


I am heading to Chicago today to see a really long opera called Don Carlos by Verdi.

Let’s define an endurance sport as a marathon today and call a finishing time 4 hours. For me, that’d be super fast! The only marathon I’ve ever done was Chicago Marathon in 2011 which took me 6 hours and 58 minutes to finish. The time limit on Chicago Marathon is 6 hours and 30 minutes. I didn’t get a book time, got a DNF and barely got a finisher’s medal. They were breaking everything down when I got to the finish line. Such a bummer in some ways. But there’s the fact that I made it to the finish line and I finished that marathon for ME. No matter what any results say, I know I finished that marathon.

Opera is like an endurance sport for the mind. 

In my opinion, opera is excellent mental training for an endurance sports.

Don Carlos is a 5 act opera with a 30 minute intermission. The total run time will be 3 hours and 50 minutes. Let’s round up and call it 4 hours. That doesn’t include going to a pre-opera talk, or the hour drive up or back in Chicago traffic.

The longest opera I’ve ever seen was 5 hours. I almost fell asleep at one point, but I made it through.

There are supertitles titles in opera if you see them live at an opera house like Lyric Opera. Supertitles are used for live performances. If you see an opera through the MetHD in a movie theater, then you have subtitles to view. Supertitles, used for live performances, and subtitles, used for recordings, project what’s being sung in a foreign language int eh opera into the native language of the audience. The version of Don Carlos I’m seeing today is sung in French, and the supertitles for the live performance will be shown in English.

Four hours of listening to a story sung in a foreign language and looking up and down between a projector to see what’s being sung to know what’s going on on-stage requires a lot of focus. Plus there are many stimuli to pay attention to beyond the story. There’s what’s going on with the music, the singing, the acting, sometimes dancing and trying to make sense of all of it put together. Plus, if it’s something I haven’t experienced before, there’s the novelty of all of it and trying to get through it the first time with knowing nothing about it.

I can train myself in advance for what I’m going to see so I know the storyline before I see it. I could listen to the opera before I go. I can attend the pre-opera talk so I have an idea of what to listen for in the music, know a little bit about the composer and learn a little bit about the storyline. If I really wanted to, I could even listen to a pre-recorded version on Apple Music.

Opera is similar to the mental and physical training you have to put in to be able to cross the marathon line. Let’s say neither are requirements in our life. Opera is a luxury and not compulsory. Let’s say the same for marathon. It’s recreational and not our job. Both could be, but let’s say they are just for fun and not necessary components in our lives. 

Just like you’d train for a marathon over many months to prepare your body for it, especially if it’s your first rodeo is a lot like attending an opera. There is mental focus required in both to get you through the event. There’s a physical component more so in a marathon, but it’s there in opera sometimes just to keep you sitting up and not falling asleep because not all opera experiences are the same (some will put you to sleep). There’s the dreaded lines for the bathroom in either scenario. There’s a 30 minute intermission at Lyric Opera for a reason (i.e. it’s an old building and not exactly optimized for long lines of people who use the bathroom at the same time) just like there are porta-potties along the marathon routes for a reason( four hours and beyond is a long time to wait before needing to use the bathroom.)

If you’re looking for some mental training for your next endurance event plus a chance to flex your mind, broaden your cultural horizons, and have a treat for the senses, I recommend you try out going to an opera. You might find that the skills you’ve cultivated as an endurance athlete might help you get through the long event if you’ve participated in endurance events in the past where you had to sit with yourself for long periods of time and focus on getting yourself across the finish line. If you’re training for your first event, I recommend you give opera a try because it’ll teach you a valuable lesson that endurance is a sport of the body and the mind to cross the finish line. 

At some point, 4 hours in an opera will feel easy. Just like being on an endurance course for 6 hours will feel easy. You have to stick at it. Neither opera nor endurance sports are easy at first, but the more you do either the easier it gets. 

My husband and I are going to hear Handel’s Messiah. My husband is not an opera goer. He said that the Messiah was long. I asked him how long it was because I didn’t know. He told me it was 2 hours and 20 minutes. I said to him, “Oh, that’s nothing.” I should’ve clarified what I said by adding, “Oh, that’s nothing for me, but I understand that will be a lot for you.” 

In sports terms, a 10k feels like “nothing” when you’ve gone a marathon distance or longer. In cultural terms, 2 hours and 20 minutes of run time for any kind of event is “nothing” when you’ve sat through much longer events that require much more focus.

For a newbie in sport or culture, though? A 10k isn’t nothing it’s something. It’s hard. Same with cultural events-2 hours and 20 minutes is a lot to sit through when you’ve never heard a piece of music played for you with a chorus singing. 

Appreciate where you started. 

See how far you’ve come. Appreciate where beginners are at. 

Respect the event. 

Respect the distance and time.

Be humble. 

Remember you were a beginner too and things weren’t always easy for you. 

Know that things will get easier over time, and life won’t always be as hard as it is when you’re just beginning.

Realize if a marathon or a 4 hour opera is easy now, that maybe it’s time to do something new that challenges you like an ultra marathon or learning to play an instrument in the music you listen to in your favorite operas (this is what’s next for me in the culture department).

Always challenge yourself and try to do a little more than you did before otherwise you’ll get bored in your body and mind. Keep moving. Don’t allow yourself to get stuck. If you’re not challenging yourself, then you’re never going to grow as an athlete or as a person.

Sarathlete

3 thoughts on “Opera and Endurance Sports: Training for Your Mind and Body

  1. Such an interesting analogy. I like it. I’ve never been to an opera. Perhaps I should give it a try. It might help me prepare for other events in my life too. Hope you enjoyed the show.

    All the best
    Brett

  2. Pingback: The Holiday Season, Being In 12 Step (ACA) & Recovery, Don Carlos and Family Drama – sarathlete

  3. Pingback: Reflecting on What I AM Grateful For With My Family Of Origin and My In-Laws, A Bit About 12 Step Programs With ZERO Substance Abuse Present, and Gratitude at Thanksgiving and Beyond – sarathlete

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