Learn About Opera

Learn About OperaWhat is opera?

An opera is like a play with music where the characters sing their lines. The music for an opera is usually performed by an orchestra led by a conductor. The words of the opera are known as the libretto and the music for the opera is known as the score.

Instruments in the orchestra include:

  • String Instruments – violin, viola, cello and double bass
  • Wind Instruments – flute, clarinet, oboe and bassoon
  • Brass Instruments – trumpet, French horn, trombone and tuba
  • Percussion Instruments – timpani, xylophone, drums and lots of other smaller instruments

Opera People

Conductor – the conductor leads the orchestra and singers to help them all play together. The conductor will control the speed and mood of the music to make the most of the sound.

Director – the director decides how to present the opera on stage. The director tells the singers where to stand on stage and how to act to tell the story in the best way to the audience. The director will work with the designer to create a vision for the opera including when and where the story is set and what style the performance will be given in.

Designer – the designer works with the director to create a vision for the opera. The designer will design sets, costumes and props for the show to best tell the story in the style decided by the director.

Singers – opera singers do not usually need to use microphones, their voices are so powerful that they can be heard in huge theatres without the need for amplification.

There are lots of different types of opera singer; here are some of the main voice types:

  • Soprano – this is a female voice type, a soprano sings the higher pitched notes
  • Mezzo – this is a female voice type, an alto sings the medium and lower pitched notes
  • Tenor – this is a male voice type, a tenor sings the high and medium pitched notes
  • Bass – this is a male voice type, a bass sings the lower pitched notes

History of Opera

The first known operas were performed in the courts of Italy in the 16th Century. This new style of performance soon became very popular and spread across Europe.

The person who writes the music for an opera is known as a composer. Here are some famous opera composers:

Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643) – an Italian who was one of the first opera composers
Henry Purcell (1659–1695) – one of the first English composers of opera
George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) – a German composer who wrote more than 40 operas
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) – an Austrian composer who is best known for his comic operas
Gaetano Donizetti (1797–1848) – an Italian composer whose operas feature his famously ornate vocal style
Richard Wagner (1813–1883) – a German composer who changed the style of opera and created an epic opera cycle where one story is told over 4 operas
Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901) – an Italian composer whose melodramatic style is still very popular
Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953) – a Russian composer whose style was influenced by Russian fairytales and the Soviet Regime
Benjamin Britten (1913–1976) – probably England’s best known opera composer

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