A Beginner's Guide to Opera Genres

Like other forms of art and entertainment, opera has many different genres. We’ve rounded up some of the most common opera genres and the famous composers behind them.

Opera Seria

If you ask someone to describe ‘opera’, usually the words drama and tragedy come to mind.

This stereotype stems from one of the oldest opera genres, Opera Seria, which gets its name from the Italian term for serious music.

Opera Seria typically covered historical or heroic productions, which led to the creations of two famous opera singing voices – prima donna (leading lady) and castrato (male hero).

These types of operas became increasingly popular among royal courts because the nobility enjoyed seeing their heroic stature reflected in the characters on stage.

Handel and Mozart are two of the most famous examples of Opera Seria composers, with works like Handel’s Rodelinda and Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito (The Clemency of Titus) being a great place to start if you’re new to the genre.

Opera Buffa

Coming from humble beginnings, the Opera Buffa was originally a one act comedic section of an Opera Seria that was used to bring some light relief to the tragic operas.

However, everyone loves a good laugh which made Opera Buffas increasingly popular and led to them becoming an opera genre in their own right.

Opera Buffa is the polar opposite to Opera Seria. One is funny and the other serious, one depicted royalty and the other ordinary peasant life that audiences could relate to. 

Mozart is a common thread between the two as his famous opera, The Marriage of Figaro, is one of the most well known examples of Opera Buffa. Rossini, whose notable works include The Barber of Seville, is also a prevalent composer in this genre.


Opera Verismo

They say write about what you know, so what better than an opera that depicts real life on stage.

Our next genre, Opera Verismo, does exactly that, gaining its name from the Italian word for realism.

Italian composers led the charge of this movement, including Giacomo Puccini whose beloved opera Tosca, is one of the most popular works of Opera Verismo.

By depicting the gruesome realities of what it meant to live in Rome at the time of Napoleon’s invasion, Tosca is one of the few examples of a historical production in this genre.


If you’re new to opera, but love musicals, then an Operetta could be the perfect genre for you.

Operetta contains both speech and songs, making it a happy medium between the two and a great entry point into opera music.

Jacques Offenbach was the founding father of this movement, with spectacular operas like Orpheus in the Underworld, paving the way for other great composers to thrive in this genre.

Gilbert and Sullivan Operettas are particularly popular among audiences, with works like The Mikado and Pirate of Penzance still being a favourite with opera goers today.

For a more comprehensive guide check out our ‘Beginners Guide to Operetta’.