Music 128a Opera Music Berkeley Syllabus

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,

The course will explore the history of opera through the music of major composers and the stories of key works.


Music 128a is an intensive study of the music of the western classical tradition from 1600 to the present. The course is designed both for students with little or no previous exposure to classical music and for those who have some familiarity with the genre. The focus of the course will be on developing critical listening skills.

What is Opera?

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers. Opera is different from other forms of musical theatre, such as operetta and the musical, because the first professional operas were written over 400 years ago and the opera repertoire (the number of different operas that are performed) is very large.

There are two types of opera:
– grand opera, with large chorus and orchestra;
– chamber opera, written for a smaller number of performers.
The word ‘opera’ comes from the Italian word for work or labour. An early meaning of opera was simply a work or composition in which several voices were integrated into an emotional whole.

What is the difference between Opera and other music?

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theatre. It is not uncommon for some works to have songs for the chorus as well as lead roles. It is distinct from oratorio, although an oratorio may have opera-like scenes; the difference lies mainly in that oratorios are performed without stage action or costumes, and sometimes with little or no vocal characterisation or development of the plot. Similarly, while the roles in an opera are principally sung, they can also be spoken.

The History of Opera

Opera is a form of musical theatre that combines a musical score with a libretto (script), and is distinguished by its dramatic structure, costuming, and use of stagecraft. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble.

What is the difference between Opera and other music?

Opera is a combination of music and theatre, originally arising out of the need to recreate Greek drama, which was originally sung. In turn, opera has influenced other forms of theatre, such as Shakespearean and Elizabethan drama. Opera is usually sung in languages other than English, most commonly Italian, French or German. German composer Richard Wagner strives for what he calls the “Gesamtkunstwerk” or “total work of art”, in which all the arts are brought together and integrated seamlessly.

Operas are usually structured in distinct musical sections, separated by recitative (speaking) or dialogue. Sections include an opening chorus, arias (songs), duets, trios, choruses, etc. Each section will have its own musical character determined by the composer. The music of an opera is heavily reliant on the instruments chosen to accompany it; common choices include strings, woodwinds and brass instruments.

When did Opera first start?

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theatre. Opera originated in Italy at the end of the sixteenth century and soon spread through Europe: today there are operatic traditions in many countries. An important characteristic of opera is that the words are sung throughout, rather than being spoken as in a play; indeed, in earlier times the music was often more important than the story being told.

Who were some of the first Opera composers?

Some of the first Opera composers include Jacopo Peri, Claudio Monteverdi, and Heinrich Schütz. Opera began in the late sixteenth century, and these three composers were some of the first to write this type of musical drama. Jacopo Peri’s opera, Dafne, was the first to be performed in its entirety, and it was also the first to use a new type of musical scale known as major-minor tonality. Claudio Monteverdi’s opera, Orfeo, is considered to be one of the most important works in the history of opera; it was the first to use recitative, which is a type of musical speech that helps to advance the plot. Heinrich Schütz’s Opera Scylla et Charybdis was also groundbreaking; it was the first German language opera and used a new type of musical form known as monody, which featured a solo singer accompanied by instruments.

The Different Types of Opera

There are many different types of opera, each with their own unique history, style, and form. The most popular type of opera is probably Italian opera, which originated in the 16th century. Italian opera is characterized by its use of arias, or solo vocal pieces, as well as elaborate sets and costumes. German opera, on the other hand, is more focused on the story and often has more spoken dialogue than singing.

What are the different types of Opera?

Opera is a very broad category of music. It can be helpful to think of it as a spectrum with different types of opera on either side. On one end of the spectrum, you have what is called “grand opera.” Grand opera is characterized by large production values, lavish costumes, and grandiose sets. On the other end of the spectrum, you have what is called “verismo opera.” Verismo opera is characterized by its realism and naturalism. In between these two extremes, you have various other types of opera such as comic opera, chamber opera, and experimental opera.

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are sung by trained opera singers. Opera incorporates many different genres of music, such as classical, rock, pop, and jazz. There are many different types of opera, each with its own unique history and style.

The four most popular opera types are grand opera, comic opera, tragic opera, and lyric opera.

Grand Opera:
Grand Opera is the most serious and dramatic type of opera. It usually has a large cast and orchestra, and tells a serious story with tragic or heroic themes. Grand operas are usually very long, sometimes lasting up to six hours. Notable examples of grandopera include Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida and Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman.

Comic Opera:
Comic Opera is a type of opera that is light-hearted and often comedic in nature. It usually has a happy ending and focuses on love and marriage. Comic operas are shorter than grand operas, usually only lasting two to three hours. Notable examples of comic opera include Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.

Tragic Opera:
Tragic Opera is a type of opera that tells a tragic story with serious or heroic themes. It often ends tragically for the main character(s). Tragic operas are usually quite long, sometimes lasting up to five hours. Notable examples of tragic opera include Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata and Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.

Lyric Opera:
Lyric Opera is a type of opera that focuses on emotional expression and beautiful singing. It often has longer passages of singing than other types of opera, giving the singers a chance to show off their vocal skills. Lyric operas can be either grand or comic in nature, but they always emphasize the beauty of the music over the story being told. Notable examples of lyric opera include Giacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly and Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

How to Listen to Opera

Listening to opera can be a daunting task, but it can also be a rewarding experience. Here are a few tips on how to listen to opera. turnovers, and other things going on in the music.

What are the different ways to listen to Opera?

There are four different ways which you could listen to any opera.
The four ways are as follows:
1. To read the libretto, or text, of the opera first, in order to follow along with the action and appreciate the story.
2. To listen to a recording of the opera before attending a performance in order to familiarize yourself with the music.
3. To attend a live performance of an opera.
4. To watch a film or video recording of an opera

What are the best ways to listen to Opera?

There are many ways to listen to opera. You can go to the opera house and watch a live performance, or you can listen to an opera recording. You can also listen to opera on the radio, or watch an opera on TV or online.

Opera is usually performed in a language other than English, so it is helpful to have a libretto (a written transcription of the words) in order to follow the story. You can usually find a libretto online, or in the program for a live performance.

When listening to an opera recording, it can be helpful to read along with the libretto, or follow along with the story in another format (such as watching a film version of the same story). Additionally, many recordings have liner notes that provide context and background information about the opera and its music.


After having studied Opera Music for a semester, I have come to appreciate it much more. Although I was not very fond of it at first, I have grown to enjoy it more and more with each passing week. I think that the main reason for this is that I have come to understand it better. It is a very complex art form, and there is a lot to appreciate.

What are some of the things you learned in this class?

Some of the things I learned in this class are the following:
-How to listen to and appreciate opera
-The history of opera and its development over time
-The different types of opera
-The structure of an opera
-The different roles within an opera
-How an opera is staged
-How to read an opera score
-The music of various major opera composers

What did you like about this class?

I found this class to be very eye-opening. I had never listened to opera before and I found it to be very moving and interesting. Learning about the history of opera and how it has evolved over time was also fascinating.

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