4 Sets of Lingo to Learn @Opera
by Pollyanna Eyler, dramaturg
Sprinkle this opera jargon into your conversations and converse like a pro!
4 Types of Opera:
- grand opera – a production sporting elaborate sets and costume designs; typically with a large cast.
- opera buffa – a comedic opera infusing supernatural elements to create high melodrama.
- opera seria – a serious, formal opera, often tragic.
- verismo – a documentary style opera, exposing the realities of life.
4 Forms of Opera Music:
- aria – usually an emotionally laden solo, often containing a cadenza ending of high, fast notes.
- belcanto – Italian for “beautiful singing.” (1600-1750) a Baroque Era style of opera singing with an emphasis on tone, volume, and controlling one’s breathing.
- chorus vs. ensemble – while the chorus is a group of people singing together (either in parts or the same line), an ensemble refers specifically to a group singing parts (2 = duet; 3 = trio; 4 = quartet, etc).
- singspiel vs. recitative – while singspiel is a German style of opera, with a mix of singing and speaking (often a fanciful opera buffa); recitative refers to any portion of an opera in which characters use speech-like singing to move the plot forward.
4 Opera Positions*
- chorus master – rehearses with the vocalists, preparing them for the performance.
- coach conductor – conducts the opera orchestra and vocalists during the performance.
- director – directs the vocalist’s acting and the performer’s and scenery’s placement and movements on the stage.
- rehearsal pianist – it would be impractical to have an entire orchestra at every rehearsal, so a rehearsal pianist plays the accompaniment during the rehearsal process.
* Read about specific people in these positions in the bios.
Opera Vocal Types* – From villains to heroes and heroines, here’s 4 of each of the basic upper and lower ranges:
4 Higher Vocal Characters
- soprano – highest female vocal range, a coloratura is an agile soprano voice able to sing runs and trills (often plays the young girl or heroine, sometimes referred to as the Prima Donna).
- mezzo-soprano – female vocal range, lower than soprano (for mothers, servants, seducers, female villains, or trouser parts, women in men’s parts)
- contralto – lowest female vocal range (for comedic roles, gypsies, witches, or other old female characters)
- boy soprano – the treble vocal range of a boy’s unchanged voice in the soprano range (reserved solely for children’s parts)
4 Lower Vocal Characters
- countertenor – rarely used today, this is the highest male vocal range, also reaching within a woman’s vocal range (mostly reserved for early operas and religious oratorios)
- tenor – usually the highest male vocal range (often the love interest and/or the hero)
- baritone – the mid-range and most common of male vocal range (could be any type of character, hero to villain)
- bass – the lowest male vocal range; (either the villain or the king, unless opera buffa, then the fool or elderly)
* Read about your favorite vocalists in the bios.