What Is an Opera? - Opera Terms and Key Parts

What Is an Opera? - Opera Terms and Key Parts
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  • 0:01 Opera
  • 0:26 Operatic Styles of Singing
  • 1:46 Styles of Opera
  • 2:58 Parts of the Opera
  • 4:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Cathy Neff

Cathy has taught college courses and has a master's degree in music.

Opera incorporates the elements of not only singing but acting, dancing, costuming and more! In this lesson, you will learn all about the key parts of opera and important opera terms.

Opera

If a song were a snack, then opera would be a full-course meal. An opera is essentially a play in which all the actors' lines are sung instead of spoken. This singing is combined with the other theatrical elements of drama, dancing, costumes, sets, staging, lighting, etc. to create the artistic spectacle we call opera.

Operatic Styles of Singing

There are two main types of singing in an opera, and these are used for different purposes. Recitative is narrative talk-singing with the emphasis on the words to move the storyline along. These are not songs with memorable melodies and rich accompaniment, but more like spoken lines put to a simple, one-note repeated melody to say something important that is happening in the plot of the opera.

An aria, on the other hand, is a reflective song with melody and accompaniment that portrays the feelings of the characters more than plot development. These are the memorable songs with rich melodies and accompaniments that emphasize the feelings and expressions of the character rather than the storyline itself.

At first, these arias had no distinct form, but by the middle of the 17th century, the aria had evolved into a form known as the da capo aria, which is a three-part form where the first section is repeated at the end of a contrasting section in the middle; this is known as ABA form. It is very common to have a lot of ornamentation of the melody when it returns at the end to show off the singing ability of the performer.

Styles of Opera

Just as there are different cuisines, such as Italian, French, and Chinese food, there are also different types of opera. In fact, there are two basic styles of opera. Opera Seria, or 'serious opera,' is an older style of opera with the emphasis on very ornamented arias rather than plot line. In these operas, the virtuoso arias are much more important than a sensible plot, the recitatives, or expressive feelings of the character. The main characters in these operas are very often gods and goddesses or ancient heroes. An example of this type of opera is Rossini's Guillaume Tell, or William Tell.

In contrast, the Opera Buffa are operas with stories about real people in real situations that are often comic situations. This style of opera evolved from the comic scenes that were inserted into Opera Seria to provide comic relief that eventually became a form of their own. An example of this type of opera was Don Pasquale by Donizetti.

Parts of the Opera

If you were dining at a fine restaurant, you would expect to find many parts of a full-course meal, such as the entree, vegetable, bread, beverage, salad, soup, and dessert. Likewise, if you were to attend an opera, there are many components that you would expect to find.

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