Classical Music and Opera – What’s the Difference?

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


A lot of people think that classical music and opera are one and the same. But there are actually some pretty big differences between the two!


Classical music and opera are two of the most popular genres of music in the world. Though they share some similarities, they are two very different genres. Classical music is often seen as more traditional and opera is often seen as more modern.

What is opera?

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers. The word opera is short for the Italian word opera in musica, which means literally ‘work in music’.

In an opera, the story is told through both the words sung by the singers (the libretto) and by their actions on stage (the staging). The music of an opera is usually written by a composer. An orchestra accompanies the singing, and there may also be soloists and chorus.

Operas are usually performed in an opera house. The first ever public opera performance took place in Venice in 1637, at the Teatro San Moisè.

What is classical music?

Classical music is a genre of music that has its roots in the Western art music tradition. It is generally characterized by complex harmonic structures, strict formal designs, and an abundance of instrumental and vocal color.

The difference between opera and classical music

Classical music and Opera – what’s the difference? Both are types of Western art music, but opera is a dramatic performance that is usually sung in an Italian dialect, while Classical music is a more general term for a wide variety of music styles from the Western world.

The difference in form

Most people think that opera is just a fancy type of classical music. They couldn’t be more wrong! While both genres are performed in concert halls and use similar instruments, they differ in many ways. The most important difference is their form. Classical music is usuallywritten in specific forms such as sonatas, symphonies, and concertos, whileopera is a drama set to music. This means that operas tell a story, often with multiple scenes, while classical pieces are usually one continuous work.

The difference in style

Classical music and opera are both performed in concert halls and opera houses, and they share many of the same composers, performers, and works. But there are also important differences between the two genres.

Classical music is primarily instrumental, with orchestral works, solo concerti, and chamber music being the most common forms. Opera, on the other hand, is a dramatic form that combines music with libretto (sung text), staging, and costumes. Operas can be either comic or serious in tone, and they are usually much longer than other musical works.

The two genres also differ in their origins. Classical music can trace its roots back to the medieval period, while opera emerged in the late 16th century in Italy. Classical music is also generally more formal than opera, which often incorporates elements of popular culture into its storylines and settings.

The difference in performers

Classical music is usually performed by a soloist or a small group of musicians, while operas are performed by a large group of singers, actors, and musicians. This difference is due to the fact that opera is a dramatic art form that combines music, acting, and often dance.


To put it simply, classical music is a more traditional form of music that has been around for centuries, while opera is a type of classical music that is sung and performed with acting.

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