Learn about Opera

Learn About Opera

Glossary

Aria - means “air” in Italian. This is a piece of music written for a one singer (soloist), usually with instrumental accompaniment.

Baritone - the middle singing range of the male voice

Bass - the lowest singing range of the male voice.

Bel Canto (Italian) — Literally, "beautiful singing" or "beautiful song". Bel canto passages are long, smooth and lyrical. While beautiful singing should occur in all operas, it is especially important in works of the nineteenth century such as Lucia di Lammermoor.

Bravo - a form of appreciation shouted by audience members at the end of a particularly pleasing performance. Technically, Bravo refers to a male performer, Brava refers to a female performer and Bravi refers to many performers.

Chorus - a group of singers of all vocal ranges, singing together to support the vocal leads. The chorus was originally an ancient Greek practice of underscoring portions of the drama through music. The chorus is often used for crowd scenes and to play minor characters.

Contralto - the lowest range of the female voice.

Encore - a piece that is performed after the last scheduled piece of a concert. An encore is usually performed because the audience wants to hear more music even though the concert is over.

Falsetto - the upper part of a voice in which the vocal cords do not vibrate completely. Usually used by males to imitate a female voice.

Finale - the last musical number of an opera or an act.

Interlude - a short piece of instrumental music played between scenes and acts.

Leitmotif - A theme or other musical idea the represents or symbolizes a person, object, place, idea, state of mind, supernatural force or some other ingredient in a dramatic work. An idea used widely throughout German opera, though associated with Richard Wagner in most of his operas.

Librettist - the writer of the opera’s text.

Libretto - Italian for the “little book”, it is the text or story of the opera.

Maestro - means “master” in Italian. Used as a courtesy title for the conductor (male or female).

Mezzo Soprano - the middle singing range for a female voice.

Opera - a dramatic presentation which is set to music, but not just a play with music. Almost all of it is sung, and the orchestra is an equal partner with the singers. Like a play, an opera is acted on stage with costumes, scenery, makeup, etc. Opera is the plural form of the Latin word opus, which means ‘work.’

Opera-comique (French) or Singspeil (German) - a form of opera which contains spoken dialogue.

Overture - an orchestral introduction to the opera played before the curtain rises. Usually longer than a prelude and can be played as a separate piece.

Pants Role - A young male character who is sung by a woman, usually a mezzo-soprano, meant to imitate the sound of a boy whose voice has not yet changed. Also called Trousers Role.

Prelude - a short introduction that leads into an act without pause.

Recitative - Lines of dialogue which are sung, usually with no recognizable melody. It is used to advance the plot.

Soprano - the highest range of the female singing voice.

Stage Director - the person in charge of the action on stage. He or she shows the singers, chorus and cast where and when to move and helps them create their characters. The stage director develops a concept for how the entire performance should look and feel. He or she works closely with the stage managers, lighting designer, set designers, costume designer and wig and make-up artists to make the vision into reality.

Stage Manager - the person who coordinates and manages elements of the performance.

Supernumeraries (Supers) - appear on stage in costume in non-singing and usually, non-speaking roles.

Surtitles - the English translations of the opera’s language that are projected above the stage during a performance to help the audience follow the story. Much like subtitles in a foreign film.

Synopsis - a short summary of what takes place in the story.

Tenor - the highest adult male voice.

Verismo - describes a realistic style of opera that started in Italy at the end of the 19th century.


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