Defining Opera in Music

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Many people enjoy listening to music, but don’t understand the difference between genres. In this post, we will define opera and explore its place in music.

What is Opera?

In its simplest definition, opera is a dramatic work in which the entire libretto (script) is sung by the cast. It is usually, but not always, accompanied by orchestral music. Oftentimes people think of opera as being classical music or artistic, and while that is partially true, opera actually has a very long and complex history.

A Brief History

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers. Opera emerged in Italy in the late 16th century and soon spread throughout Europe. It reached its present form through the work of a number of creators, the most important being Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643).

The word opera is from the Italian word for work, opus. The first part of an opera is called the libretto (Italian for book). This contains the story, which is usually based on historical events or legends, and the words of the songs. The second part is the music, which brings the story to life.

Opera was invented to bring together all forms of art – words, music and drama – into one beautiful package. It tells stories that grip the heart and stay in the memory long after the final curtain has fallen.

The Components of Opera

Opera is a combination of several art forms, all of which work together to create a complete performance. An opera typically includes vocal and instrumental music, drama, characters, and stagecraft.

Most operas are written in one or more vocal languages. The music is usually accompanied by an orchestra. The first operas were performed in the early 1600s in Italy. They quickly spread to other countries in Europe, such as Germany and France. Today, opera companies exist all over the world, and new operas are being created all the time.

The word “opera” means “work” in Italian. This is fitting because creating an opera is indeed a lot of work! Not only do composers have to write the music, but they also have to write the libretto, or story. The libretto is usually written in the same language as the music.

There are many different types of operas. Some are comic and full of humor, while others are tragedy and full of drama. Opera can be serious or playful, long or short, simple or complex. Whatever the type, opera has the power to move us emotionally and sometimes even physically.

What are the Different Types of Opera?

There are three main types of opera: comic, tragic, and mixed. Comic opera is light-hearted and often ends happily. Tragic opera is just the opposite: it is serious and often ends in tragedy. Mixed opera is a combination of the two, with both comic and tragic elements.

Grand Opera

The first type of opera that we will discuss is grand opera. Grand opera is the most formal and traditional type of opera. It is usually in five acts and has a very large orchestral accompaniment, elaborate sets, and often features a chorus. Grand opera tells a serious story and often has a tragic ending. Some of the most famous grand operas include Giuseppe Verdi’s “Aida” and Giacomo Puccini’s “Turandot.”

Comic Opera

Comic opera is a subgenre of opera that combines music and comedy. Comic operas are usually shorter than other operas, with simple plots and characters that are easy to follow. The music in a comic opera is often lively and upbeat, making it a perfect choice for those who want to enjoy an evening of light-hearted entertainment.

One of the most popular comic operas ever written is The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. This opera tells the story of a day in the life of Figaro, the head servant in a rich household. Figaro’s master, Count Almaviva, is trying to cheat on his wife with one of the other women in the household, but Figaro is determined to stop him. The Marriage of Figaro is filled with humorous characters and situations, as well as some of Mozart’s most beautiful music.

Serious Opera

In contrast to the other two types of opera, serious opera is characterized by more complex emotions and stories. These operas often deal with tragic themes, and the music is usually more strenuous and difficult to sing. Many of the most famous operas in history fall into this category, including works by Mozart, Verdi, and Puccini.

How is Opera Performed?

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers. It is a dramatic art form that is usually performed in an Opera house.

The Singers

While the music in an opera is certainly important, it would be nothing without the singers. The human voice is the original instrument, after all. In order to become an opera singer, one must usually have years of training in vocal technique and music theory. Many opera singers begin their careers by performing in small roles in professional productions while they continue to hone their craft.

Opera singers are classified according to the range of their voices. The highest female voice is the soprano, followed by the mezzo-soprano. The lowest female voice is the contralto, which is relatively rare. Male opera singers are classified as tenors, baritones, or basses.

There are also many different types of opera singing styles, which can be broadly categorized as either bel canto or verismo. Bel canto (“beautiful singing”) operas focus on vocal technique and style over emotion and drama. Verismo (“realistic”) operas, on the other hand, focus on drama and emotion over vocal technique and style. Most operas fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

The Orchestra

The orchestra in an opera is typically much larger than a symphony orchestra and often has over 100 musicians. The reason for this is that the music in an opera is written to be much more lush and detailed than in a symphony. In addition, the range of emotions that are conveyed in an opera are much greater than those found in most symphonies. To accommodate this, the opera composer writes more parts for more instruments.

The Chorus

One of the most unique aspects of an opera is the role of the chorus. In many ways, the chorus reflects the feeling and opinions of the majority, and their singing is often some of the most beautiful and memorable music in an opera. The chorus also plays an important role in setting the scene and moving the story along.

While there are many different ways that an opera can be performed, one of the most common is with a full orchestra and a chorus. The music for an opera is written specifically for this combination of instruments, which allows for a wide range of expression and emotion.

The chorus is typically made up of anywhere from 12 to 40 singers, depending on the size of the opera house and the requirements of the specific opera. These singers are usually amateurs or professionals who have been specifically chosen for their voices and their ability to blend together.

The Stage

In traditional opera, the action takes place entirely on stage with singers and musicians performing live. The Orchestra is typically in an area below or in front of the stage, hidden from the audience’s view. In some cases, such as certain Baroque operas, the musicians are even placed on stage with the singers.

The sets and scenery are an important part of opera. They help to create the mood and environment of the piece and can be very elaborate. Opera companies will often have several different sets that they use for different productions.

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