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Opera Glossary

Article

Jump to a letter: | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z |

A capella

  • Unaccompanied vocal music

Act

  • The division of sections of the story similar to acts in a play

Aria

  • A long accompanied song for a solo voice

Auditorium

  • The part of a theatre, concert hall, or other public building in which the audience sits. The London Coliseum has the biggest auditorium in London at 2,359 seats

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B

Baritone

  • An adult male mid-range singing voice between tenor and bass

Baroque

  • Relating to a style of European music of the 17th and 18th centuries, characterised by ornate detail. Major composers include Vivaldi, Bach and Handel

Bass

  • The lowest adult male singing voice

Baton

  • A thin stick used by a conductor to direct a group of musicians and keep them in time

Bel Canto

  • A lyrical style of operatic singing using a full, rich, broad tone and smooth phrasing

Brava! Bravo! Bravi!

  • A term used during applause to commend the performers on stage. ‘Brava’ for female performers, ‘Bravo’ for male performers, ‘Bravi’ for the entire ensemble.

Buffa

  • A comic opera, especially one with characters drawn from everyday life

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C

Castrato

  • A male singer castrated in boyhood so as to retain a soprano or alto voice. Practice was banned in 1903. Now female singers often sing the castrati parts. Julius Caeser is an example of this.

Choral

  • Composed for or sung by a choir or chorus

Choreographer

  • A person who creates dance compositions and plans dance movements for dances in the opera

Chorus

  • A large group of singers which performs with an orchestra or opera company

Classical

  • Music written in the European tradition during a period lasting approximately from 1730 to 1820. Major opera composers include Mozart and Rossini.

Coloratura

  • Elaborate ornamentation of a vocal melody, especially in operatic singing

Composer

  • A person who writes music

Conductor

  • The person who directs the live performance from the front of the stage with the orchestra

Contralto

  • The lowest female singing voice

Costume

  • The styled clothes worn by the singers.

Countertenor

  • The highest male adult singing voice (sometimes distinguished from the male alto voice by its strong, pure tone)

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D

Da Capo Aria

  • A musical form that was prevalent in the 17th century. It is sung by a soloist with the accompaniment of the orchestra.  A da capo aria is in ternary form, meaning it is composed of three sections.

Diction

  • The style of enunciation in singing

Director

  • A person who supervises the singers and general production

Diva

  • A female opera star of rank or pretension

Duet

  • A performance by two singers

Dynamics

  • How loud or quiet the music is. Another word for volume.

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E

Encore

  • A repeated performance at the end of a concert, as called for by the audience

F

Falsetto

  • A heady, light voice common to the male voice

Finale

  • The end of the scene, act, opera where often the entire ensemble gathers for the last musical scene

Forte

  • To be performed loudly

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G

Gesamtkunstwerk

  • Term introduced by Wagner meaning a ‘Total work of art’/ all-embracing art form that makes use of all or many art forms

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H

Harmony

  • The combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes (types of harmony)

Heldentenor

  • A powerful tenor voice suitable for heroic roles in opera

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I

Intermezzo

  • A short musical composition usually offered between the acts of a longer operatic work

Interval

  • A pause or break in a performance

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J

 

K

 

L

Largo

  • Slow speed

Legato

  • A smooth, connected style of singing and playing

Leitmotiv

  • ‘Light motif’; a short thematic musical passage representing a character or situation in a musical drama. Wagner used this tool often in his operas: the fire motive in The Valkyries, and the glance motive in Tristan and Isolde, for example.

Libretto

  • The sung text of an opera

Lilian Baylis

  • Lilian Baylis established the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company which became the English National Opera in 1974. She was passionate about providing audiences with the best theatre and opera at affordable prices. A belief that remains today at the heart of ENO.

London Coliseum

  • ENO’s venue – the biggest theatre in the West End

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M

Mezzo-soprano

  • A female singer with a voice pitched between soprano and contralto

Milliner

  • A person who makes hats, masks and headdresses.

Minimalism

  • An avant-garde style of music characterised by the repetition of very short phrases which change gradually, producing a hypnotic effect. Glass’s Akhnaten from our 2015/16 season is an excellent example of this.

Musical Theatre

  • A genre or drama in which singing and dancing play an essential part. The most significant difference between musical theatre and opera is that operas are generally entirely sung, while musicals combine various amounts of spoken dialogue with song. The influence of opera on the musical should never be underestimated, however.

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N

Nessun Dorma

  • One of the best-known tenor arias in all opera. It’s from Puccini’s Turandot, although you might recognise it from Leicester City football’s victory in the 2016 Premier League and countless films.

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O

Opera

  • A dramatic work in one or more acts, set to music for singers and instrumentalists

Operetta

  • A short opera, usually on a light or humorous theme and typically having spoken dialogue. Notable composers of operettas include Offenbach, Johann Strauss, Franz Lehar and Gilbert and Sullivan.

Oratorio

  • A musical composition for chorus, orchestra and soloists whose text is usually religious, serious or philosophical. Generally not staged, oratorio was Handel’s domain in England when opera fell out of favour. Examples of oratorios are Haydn’s The Creation and Handel’s Messiah.

Orchestra

  • A group of instrumentalists who accompany singers in an opera.

Ornamentation

  • Decorative notes that enhance a melodic line, often when it is repeated.

Overture

  • An orchestral piece at the beginning of an opera which often references musical ideas that the audience will hear throughout the opera.

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P

Piano

  • To be performed softly and quietly.

Pit

  • The part of a theatre where the orchestra plays, typically in front of the stage and on a lower level

Prelude

  • An introductory piece of music, most commonly an orchestral opening to an act of an opera

Prima Donna

  • ‘First lady’; the female lead in an opera cast. In Verdi’s time, roles were differentiated in order of dramatic and vocal importance: prima, seconda, terza, etc. Recently, however, the term has come to describe the personality of the singer.

Producer

  • A person responsible for the financial and managerial aspects of the making of an opera. Works with the Director to bring their vision to life.

Proscenium

  • The part of the stage between the curtain and the orchestra pit

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Q

Queen of the Night

  • One of the most famous characters in all of opera.  A principal role in the 1791 Mozart opera The Magic Flute who sings a very recognisable aria…

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R

Range

  • The distance from the lowest to the highest pitch of an instrument or a singer

Recitative

  • A rhythmically free vocal style that imitates the natural inflections of speech and that is used for dialogue and narrative in operas

Rehearsal

  • A practice or trial performance of an opera. The period before an opera comes to stage.

Repertoire

  • The stock of operas that a company or a performer is prepared to perform

Repetiteur

  • A tutor or coach of musicians, especially opera singers

Romantic

  • An era of Western classical music that dates from 1780 to 1910. Wagner, Verdi, Puccini and Tchaikovsky are major opera composers from this era.

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S

Sadler’s Wells Opera

  • Lilian Baylis established the Sadler’s Wells Opera in 1931 which eventually became English National Opera, as we know it, in 1974

Seria

  • An opera on a serious, usually classical or mythological theme

Set

  • The created structures on a stage that are intended to suggest a particular scene

Sitzprobe

  • A German term to describe a seated rehearsal. Usually the first time that the singers come together with the orchestra.

Soprano

  • The highest female singing voice

Spinto

  • “pushed”; a voice is ‘pushed’ toward another, i.e., a lyrico spinto is a lyric soprano that can lean toward a heavier, dramatic quality.

Staccato

  • “clipped”; short, clipped, rapid articulation. The opposite of legato.

Surtitles

  • A caption projected on a screen above the stage in an opera, showing the text being sung

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T

Tenor

  • A male singing voice between baritone and alto or countertenor, the highest of the ordinary adult male range

Toi Toi Toi

  • Originally an idiom used to ward off a spell or hex. Nowadays people say this before an opera performance instead of saying ‘good luck’. Similar to ‘break a leg’ in theatre.

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U

Unison

  • Singing or playing at the same time.

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V

Verismo

  • “truth”; A theatrical style in the late 1800s that depicted ordinary, everyday characters in melodramatic situations. Puccini’s Il Trittico, a triptych, includes the ‘verismo’ melodramas Il tabarro (The Cloak) and Suor Angelica.

Vibrato

  • A rapid, slight variation in pitch in singing or playing some musical instruments, producing a stronger or richer tone

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W

Wigs

  • A covering for the head made of real or artificial hair.

Warm up

  • Preparation for singing by practising gently and exercising the full vocal range.

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X

Xylophone

  • a musical instrument played by striking a row of wooden bars of graduated length with one or more small wooden or plastic beaters.

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Y

Yodelling

  • A form of singing or calling marked by rapid alternation between the normal voice and falsetto that originated in Austro-Bavarian culture. Yodelling can be heard in some works by Richard Strauss.

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Z

Zarzuela

  • A Spanish popular musical theatrical presentation blending dialogue and music in skits and dramas ranging from one to three acts that satirize aspects of daily life. Early zarzuelas were performed in the Palacio de la Zarzuela in Madrid – so named because it was surrounded by a field of brambles (‘zarza’ is Spanish for bramble)

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