Opera facts

Act
An opera, like most plays, consists of acts (main parts) in which the action takes place. Each act consists of scenes or scenes. When one or more characters leave the stage, a new scene begins.

Aria (literally air, breath)
A song, for one singer, to express a feeling. In its original form, the aria does not contribute to the action: the story pauses, and the spectator witnesses the emotional expression. The arias are often the opera’s vocal highlights: the ‘hits’.

Belcanto (Italian for clean, beautiful singing)
Italian singing between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries in which the sound is conveyed as naturally and evenly as possible. The sound and its beauty can be at the expense of the dramatic expression. The solo singer was given an important place in the performance because the composer gave him space for a virtuoso embellishment of the melody. The Bel canto features in operas by composers Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini and Verdi.

Cavatina
A short, lyrical piece for a soloist.

Finale
The closing piece of a larger piece of music. In opera, the finale is the final scene of an act.

Libretto
The text of an opera. Sometimes the composer writes the libretto himself. Usually, there is a separate lyricist for it: the librettist.

Musical
A modern form of opera or operetta that originated in America. A musical also takes place on a set, and there is singing and acting. A significant difference is the vocal technique: opera singers are trained to sing without amplification, so without a microphone. The spectacle is also essential.

Opera
A play set to music. The opera’s actors are singers who sing rather than pronounce their lines. Because opera contains many different elements (music, theatre, image, language), we call it a complex art form. It originated around 1600 in Italy and was undisputedly the leading music genre until the beginning of the twentieth century.

Opera buffa (Italian for happy, comic opera)
Italian opera from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that emerged from the Commedia dell’Arte (theatre). Initially, the opera buffa was a short, comical intermezzo performed in the intermission of an opera seria at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Based on these first initiatives, the opera buffa developed into an independent opera genre. Every day, stereotypical characters were often used for the opera buffa, who commented on political and social situations in the form of satire. The most famous opera buffa is probably Rossini’s The Barber of Seville.

Opera seria (Italian for serious opera)
Italian opera genre that developed at the end of the seventeenth century from various style elements into a theatre genre with a sublime character. The subjects for this type of opera are drawn from mythology, historical sources and the classical heroic dramas of Greek Antiquity and are mainly about high-ranking characters.

Operetta
Cheerful genre of musical performance with spoken dialogues, songs, and dances, popularised by Jacques Offenbach in Paris around 1850. The operetta, originally a parody of opera, always takes into account the audiences’ entertainment needs. The operetta was popular from 1850 to 1950. Its fundamental distinction from opera is its bold, satirical or gooey sentimental undertone, and the music and theme are always lighter.

Overture
The opera usually opens with an overture or opening piece. In the overture, only the orchestra plays. There is no singing. Musical motifs emerge and return later in the opera.

Character
Role in which the actor/singer acts; the character represented.

Part
A section performed by a specific voice or instrument.

Score
The written recording of all musical lines in an opera or other piece of music. In the score, all notes of the simultaneously sounding orchestra instruments and the singers’ voices are displayed one below the other. The score thus gives an exact impression of the progress of the music. For the conductor, the score is indispensable for the performance’s preparation. The conductor uses the score to musically leads the opera.

Recitative (half sing, half talk)
The text sung or spoken in an opera that connects arias or ensemble numbers. The story takes place and develops in the recitative, in contrast to the aria, which expresses the story’s emotional response. The sung or spoken word’s intelligibility in the recitative is therefore essential. There is a distinction between ‘recitativo secco’, which is only accompanied by a stringed instrument (such as harpsichord or cello), and the ‘recitativo accompagnato’, which has extensive accompaniment.

Rehearsals
The opera company draws up a schedule stating when soloists and choir members rehearse with the répétiteur (pianist). All singers must know their part before rehearsals start. Scenes are practised in a rehearsal period of four to six weeks, in which reading, musical and theatre rehearsals take place.

At the Sitz and Bühneprobe (sitting and stage rehearsal), the entire opera is rehearsed from start to finish. The musical part is mainly discussed during the Sitzprobe, and the direction is discussed during the Bühneprobe. In the week before the premiere, there are the prégenerales (piano serale, prégenerale with orchestra and generale with orchestra, also called Avant-première). At Opera Zuid, there are four weeks of rehearsal in the Studio (rehearsal room). Then, in the last two weeks before the premiere, rehearsals take place in the premiere theatre.

Role
When singers speak of a role, this refers to the character played or presented.

Foto: Marie Louise Nijsing
Foto: Marie Louise Nijsing