The new season of Opera Colorado is here, and the weekend's opening gala was a sure success. Mezzo-Soprano Frederica von Stade (pictured), in her first-ever engagement with the company, delighted spectators at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House with her solo performance (accompanied by composer Jake Heggie on the piano) of musical theater and classical pieces. The stereotype is that opera is for a more "mature" crowd, but the gala gave me some perspective on how audiences of all ages can enjoy the full opera experience: 1. You don't have to buy a new floor-length gown to attend. A former Opera Colorado employee told me she's seen everything from evening wear to jeans and a bolo tie. If you want to dress on the more elegant side, pull out that black prom dress you never thought you'd wear again. 2. So you think the setting and characters are beautiful, but you don't understand the language? No problem. Each seat (and they're comfortable) has a personal subtitle screen for easy reading and English or Spanish translations. 3. Think you can't afford it? Think again. Tickets start at just $30, and even if you're on the fourth level, you're never more than 200 feet from the stage. (The music will give you goose bumps no matter where you are.) 4. If you're still not sure opera is right for you, plan to attend Opera on Tour, one-act English operas that offer a taste before ordering the whole dish. This season's selection includes Cinderella and the comedy The Music Shop. 5. Don't forego a night on the town to see the show. Do both. Since the Ellie is located near a ton of bars and restaurants (plus, it's only a few blocks from 16th Street Mall), you can enjoy a full night of activities. Check out our Theater Dining map for ideas on pre- or post-opera eats. 6. She may not be Julia Roberts, but Ellie Caulkins, for whom Denver's opera house is named, has her own box at the opera and attends each performance at least once. You might just get a chance to rub elbows with this Denver celebrity. 7. Frederica "Flicka" von Stade was here for only one night, but there will be more chances to meet the stars of other productions during the season. Meet the Artists is a free lunchtime discussion with the artistic team prior to opening night. 8. If you want to see the world but don't have the time and cash, join Opera Colorado on a tour of Italy, Japan, and Ceylon during these thrilling productions: Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte, Madama Butterfly, and The Pearl Fishers.