An Opera is a form of art which features singers and musicians performing a piece of dramatic work by incorporating both reading text and singing to a musical score. It is similar to spoken theatre in that it makes use of elements such as dancing and acting as well as costumes and scenery. Operas are typically performed in what is known as an opera house. On stage they are accompanied by an orchestra or some form of musical ensemble.
Traditional operas are a type of spoken theatre performance. Musicians and singers come together in order to perform a piece of text (the words of an opera are referred to as libretto) as well as some form of singing to a musical score. There are typically two different types of singing which are used in an Opera. These are arias, which is a melodic and formal singing style used to allow characters to express their emotions, and recitative, which is a singing style which is more speech-inflected and is used to drive forward the plot of the opera.
A History of Operas
The Opera as we know it is an art form which is part of the Western classical musical tradition. It came into being at the end of the 16th century in Italy with a piece called Dafne written by Jacopo Peri in Florence.
It didn’t take long for this art form to gain popularity and spread throughout Europe. There were many influential individuals who played a huge role in helping to form Operatic traditions in their own countries. For instance, by the 17th century, individuals such as Henry Purcell in England, Heinrich Schütz in Germany, and Jean-Baptiste Lully in France established unique Opera traditions in their respective countries.
By the 18th century, it became clear that in Europe, Italian Opera was the dominating force. In fact, composers from all over the world were flocking to Italy to take part in Operas. At the time, Opera seria was the most prestigious form of Opera.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart emerged as one of the top composers of operas in the 18th century and created both opera serias as well as comic operas.
By the 19th century, the golden age of opera would begin. Operas began to take on different characteristics and became grander. Some of the most prominent names in Opera at the time included Giuseppe Verdi in Italy and Richard Wagner in Germany.
As time went on, the styles of opera began to diversify even further. Parallel traditions would form in both central and eastern Europe. In addition, by the 20th century, composers were more comfortable with experimenting with different, more modern styles. This saw the introduction of minimalism, atonality, neoclassicism, and serialism in Operatic traditions.
The Different Voice Classifications
In any opera, the individual singers and the roles that they are assigned are classified according to voice type. An individual’s voice type is determined by a number of different factors including the power, tessitura, timbre, and agility of their voice.
For male singers, their vocal range is typically classified as baritone, bass, bass-baritone, tenor and countertenor.
For female singers, their vocal range is typically classified as contralto, mezzo-soprano and soprano.
It is not unheard of for men to perform and sing within the traditionally female vocal ranges. When this occurs, they are typically classified as a countertenor or a sopranist. Men began to be referred as countertenors when, historically, parts were written for castrati, or men who had been neutered at a young age. This was done in order to give them a higher singing range.
In order to distinguish a singer’s vocal characteristics and abilities, they are also often classified by size. For instance, a soprano may be described as a dramatic soprano, lyric soprano, coloratura, soubrette, or spinto.
Famous Opera Singers
Opera as an art form used to be a lot more popular than it currently is today. However, over the years, many opera singers have been immortalized through recordings of their works. These famous opera singers include the likes of Nellie Melba, "The Three Tenors" (Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, and José Carreras), Maria Callas, Kirsten Flagstad, Feodor Chaliapin, Enrico Caruso, Alfredo Kraus, Amelita Galli-Curci, Beniamino Gigli, Montserrat Caballé, and more.