What Is an Opera? - Opera Terms and Key Parts Video

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Operatic Singers: Vocal Parts and Singer Roles

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 Opera
  • 0:26 Operatic Styles of Singing
  • 1:46 Styles of Opera
  • 2:58 Parts of the Opera
  • 4:51 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

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.


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.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account