Soprano: The highest female voice, similar to a flute in range and tone colour. Usually plays the heroine in the opera since a high, bright sound can easily suggest youth and innocence.
Mezzo-Soprano: The middle-range female voice, similar to an oboe in range and tone colour. Called an alto in choral arrangements, can play a wide variety of characters including gypsies, mothers and even the part of a young man (trouser role).
Contralto: The lowest female voice, similar to an English horn in range and tone colour. Usually play unique roles including fortune-tellers, witches and older women. Not very common.
Tenor: The highest male voice, similar to a trumpet in range, tone color and acoustical “ring.” Usually plays the hero or the romantic lead in the opera.
Baritone: The middle-range male voice, similar to a French horn in tone color. Often plays the leader of mischief in comic opera or the villain in tragic opera, sometimes even the hero.
Bass: The lowest male voice, similar to a trombone or bassoon in tone color. Usually portrays old, wise men, or foolish, comic men.
The vocal parts overlap each other. The notes that are high for baritone to sing are low for a tenor. The notes that are low for a baritone to sing are high for a bass. For this reason you may see a high range mezzo-soprano singing a soprano’s role or a low range baritone singing a bass’ role.
The following terms can be used to describe special characteristics in a vocal range:
Coloratura: A light, bright voice that has the ability to sing many notes quickly, usually with an extended upper range.
Lyric: A light to medium weight voice, often singing beautiful sweeping melodies.
Dramatic: Dark, heavy and powerful voice, capable of sustained and forceful singing.
Norina (Don Pasquale)
Lucia (Lucia di Lammermoor)
Mimi (La Bohème)
Pamina (The Magic Flute)
Amelia (A Masked Ball)
Leonora (Il Trovatore)
Rosina (The Barber of Seville)
Angelina (La Cenerentola)
Dorabella (Così fan tutte)
The Composer (Ariadne auf Naxos)
Azucena (Il Trovatore)
Ulrica (A Masked Ball)
Count Almaviva (The Barber of Seville)
Don Ottavio (Don Giovanni)
Ferrando (Così fan tutte)
Alfredo (La Traviata)
Rodolfo (La Bohème)
Tamino (The Magic Flute)
Dick Johnson (Fanciulla)
Don Jose (Carmen)
Figaro (The Barber of Seville)
Count Almaviva (The Marriage of
Dr. Malatesta (Don Pasquale)
Marcello (La Bohème)
Don Giovanni (Don
Germont (La Traviata)
Di Luna (Il Trovatore)
Jack Rance (Fanciulla)
Bartolo (The Barber of Seville)
Don Magnifico (Cenerentola)
Dr. Dulcamara (The Elixir of Love)
Leporello (Don Giovanni)
Colline (La Bohème)
Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro)
Don Pasquale (Don
Don Alfonso (Così fan tutte)
Sarastro (The Magic
GLOSSARY: IMPORTANT WORDS IN OPERA
Act- a section of the opera that is then divided into scenes.
Aria- means “air” in Italian. This is a piece of music written for a one singer (soloist), usually with instrumental accompaniment.
Aside- a secret comment from an actor directly to the audience that the other characters cannot hear.
Baritone- the middle singing range of the male voice.
Bass- the lowest singing range of the male voice.
Basso buffo (Italian)- a bass singer who specializes in comic characters.
Basso profundo (Italian)- the most serious bass voice.
Baton- short stick that the conductor uses to lead the orchestra.
Bel Canto- Italian phrase literally meaning “beautiful singing.” A traditional Italian style of singing emphasizing tone, phrasing, coloratura passages, and technique. Also refers to the operas written in this style.
Blocking- directions given to the performers for movement on stage.
Bravo- (Italian)- a form of appreciation shouted by audience members at the end of a particularly pleasing performance. Technically, Bravo refers to a male performer, Brava refers to a female performer and Bravi refers to many performers.
Buffo- from the Italian for “buffoon.” A singer of comic roles (basso-buffo) or a comic opera (opera-buffa.)
Cadenza- a passage of singing, often at the end of an aria, which shows off the singer's vocal ability.
Castrato- (Italian)- a castrated male prized for his high singing voice.
Choreographer- the person who designs the steps of a dance.
Chorus- a group of singers of all vocal ranges, singing together to support the vocal leads.
Classical- the period in music which comes after the Baroque and before the Romantic, roughly from the birth of Mozart to shortly after the death of Beethoven. It represents the greatest standardization in orchestral form and tonality.
Coloratura- elaborate ornamentation of music written for a singer using many fast notes and trills. Also used to describe a singer who sings this type of music.
Composer- the individual who writes all the music for both voice and instrument.
Comprimario- (Italian)- a nineteenth century term referring to secondary or supporting roles such as confidantes, messengers, and matchmakers.
Contralto- the lowest female voice range.
Conductor- the person responsible for the musical interpretation and coordination of the performance. The conductor controls the tempo, the dynamic level and the balance between singers and orchestra. You will see this person standing in the orchestra pit conducting the musicians and the singers.
Countertenor- a male singer with the highest male voice range, generally singing within the female contralto or mezzo soprano range.
Crescendo- a build in the volume or dynamic of the music.
Cue- a signal to enter or exit from the stage, to move or to change lighting or scenery; or a signal given by the conductor to the musicians.
Curtain Call- occurs at the end of the performance when all the cast members and the conductor take bows. This can occur in front of the curtain or on the open stage.
Designer- a production can have two or three designers: a lighting designer, a costume designer, a set designer, or someone who is both costume and set designer. They work closely with the stage director to give the production a distinctive look.
Diva- literally, “goddess” in Italian. An important female opera star. The masculine form is divo.
Dress Rehearsal- the final rehearsal before opening night, includes costumes, lights, makeup, etc. Sometimes it is necessary to stop for adjustments, but an attempt is made to make it as much like a regular performance as possible.
Duet- music that is written for two people to sing together.
Encore- a piece that is performed after the last scheduled piece of a concert. An encore is usually performed because the audience wants to hear more music even though the concert is over.
Ensemble- a part of the opera written for a group of two or more singers. This may or may not include the chorus.
Falsetto- the upper part of a voice in which the vocal cords do not vibrate completely. Usually used by males to imitate a female voice.
Finale- the last musical number of an opera or an act.
Grand Opera- spectacular French opera of the Romantic period, lavishly staged, with a historically-based plot, a huge cast, an unusually-large orchestra, and ballet. It also refers to opera without spoken dialogue.
Helden- German prefix meaning “heroic”. Can also apply to other voices, but usually used in “heldentenor.”
House- the auditorium and front of the theatre excluding the stage and backstage areas.
Impresario– the proprietor, manager, or conductor of an opera or concert company; one who puts on or sponsors an entertainment; manager, producer.
Interlude- a short piece of instrumental music played between scenes and acts.
Intermission- a break between acts of an opera. The lights go on and the audience is free to move around.
Librettist- the writer of the opera’s text. Libretto- Italian for “little book.” It is the text or story of the opera.
Lyric- used to describe a light to medium weight voice with an innocent quality, capable of both sustained, forceful singing and delicate effects.
Maestro- means “master” in Italian. Used as a courtesy title for the conductor (male or female).
Mark- to sing, but not at full voice. A full-length opera is very hard on a singer’s voice so most performers mark during rehearsals. During the Dress Rehearsal singers try to sing at full voice for part if not all of the rehearsal.
Mezzo-soprano- the middle singing range for a female voice.
Motif or Leitmotif- a recurring musical theme used to identify an emotion, person, place, or object.
Opera- a dramatic presentation which is set to music. Almost all of it is sung, and the orchestra is an equal partner with the singers. Like a play, an opera is acted on stage with costumes, scenery, makeup, etc. Opera is the plural form of the Latin word opus, which means “work”.
Opera buffa- (Italian)- an opera about ordinary people, usually, but not always comic. First developed in the eighteenth century.
Opera seria- (Italian)- a serious opera. The usual characters are gods and goddesses, or ancient heroes.
Opera-comique- (French) or Singspeil (German)- a form of opera which contains spoken dialogue.
Operetta- lighthearted opera with spoken dialogue, such as a musical.
Orchestra- an ensemble, led by a conductor, that is comprised of string, woodwind, brass and percussion instruments.
Orchestra pit- sunken area in front of the stage where the orchestra sits.
Overture- an orchestral introduction to the opera played before the curtain rises. Usually longer than a prelude and can be played as a separate piece.
Pitch- how high or low a note sounds.
Prelude- a short introduction that leads into an act without pause.
Prima Donna- literally, “first lady” in Italian. The leading woman in an opera. Because of the way some of them behaved in the past, it often refers to someone who is acting in a superior and demanding fashion. The term for a leading man is primo uomo.
Principal- a major singing role, or the singer who performs such a role.
Production- the combination of sets, costumes, props, and lights etc.
Props- objects carried or used on stage by the performers.
Proscenium- the front opening of the stage which frames the action.
Quartet- four singers or the music that is written for four singers. Also quintet, sextet, etc.
Raked Stage- a stage that slants downwards towards the audience.
Recitative- lines of dialogue that are sung, usually with no recognizable melody. It is used to advance the plot.
Rehearsal- a working session in which the singers prepare for public performance.
Score- the written music of an opera or other musical work.
Serenade- a piece of music honouring someone or something, an extension of the traditional performance of a lover beneath the window of his mistress.
Soprano- the highest range of the female singing voice.
Soubrette- (French)- pert young female character with a light soprano voice.
Spinto- (Italian)- a lyric voice that has the power and incisiveness for dramatic climaxes.
Stage Areas- refers to the various sections of the stage as seen by those on stage.
Stage Director- the person in charge of the action on stage. He or she shows the singers, chorus and cast where and when to move and helps them create their characters. The stage director develops a concept for how the entire performance should look and feel. He or she works closely with the stage managers, lighting designer, set designers, costume designer and wig and make-up artists to make his or her vision into reality.
Stage Manager- the person who coordinates and manages elements of the performance.
Supernumeraries- (Supers)- appear on stage in costume in non-singing and usually, non-speaking roles.
Surtitles- the English translations of the opera’s language, in this production Italian, that are projected above the stage during a performance to help the audience follow the story. Much like subtitles in a foreign film.
Synopsis- a short summary of the story of the opera.
Tableau- occurs at the end of a scene or act, when all cast members on stage freeze in position and remain that way until the curtain closes. It looks as though that moment has been captured in a photograph.
Tempo- speed of the music.
Tenor- the highest natural adult male voice.
Trill- very quick alternation between two adjacent notes. See coloratura.
Trio- an ensemble of three singers or the music that is written for three singers.
Trouser role- the role of an adolescent boy or young man, written for and sung by a woman, often a mezzosoprano. Also known as a pants role.
Verismo- describes a realistic style of opera that started in Italy at the end of the 19th century.
What is a sitzprobe??
Pronounced “zits-probe” this German word is not what you may think! It is the name given to the type of rehearsal that is held the first day of moving on to the main stage. For the first time, the principals and chorus are together with the Maestro and the orchestra. The entire opera is sung through without any costumes or blocking. This gives everyone a chance to check the ensemble and balance between the singing and the orchestra (remember, up until now rehearsals have been accompanied by piano.)
The following list will help you (and those around you)
enjoy the experience of a night at the opera:
Dress to be comfortable. Many people enjoy dressing up in formal attire.
Arrive on time. Latecomers disturb the singers and others in the audience. Latecomers will only be seated at suitable breaks - often not until intermission.
Find your seat with the help of your teacher or an usher.
Remove your hat. This is customary and is respectful to the artists and to people sitting behind you.
Turn off cell phones, ipods, pagers, digital watch alarms and all electronic devices.
Leave your camera at home. A flash can be very disturbing to the artists and audience members.
Save all conversations, eating and drinking, and chewing gum, for the intermission. Talking and eating can be disruptive to other audience members and distracts from your ability to be absorbed by the show. The audience is critical to the success of the show – without you, there can be no performance.
Settle in and get comfortable before the performance begins. Read your program before the performance – rustling through the program during the show can disrupt everyone.
Clap as the lights are dimmed and the conductor appears and bows to the audience. Watch as the conductor then turns to the orchestra and takes up his or her baton to signal the beginning of the opera.
Listen to the prelude or overture before the curtain rises. It is part of the performance. It is an opportunity to identify common musical themes that may reoccur during the opera.
Read the English surtitles projected above the stage.
Sit still during the performance. Only whisper when it is absolutely necessary, as a whisper
is heard all over the theatre, and NEVER (except in an emergency) stand during the
Applaud (or shout Bravo!) at the end of an aria or chorus piece to show your enjoyment. The end of a piece can be identified by a pause in the music.
Laugh when something is funny – this is a performance and you are expected to respond!
Listen for subtleties in the music. The tempo, volume and complexity of the music and
singing often depict the “feeling” or “sense” of the action or character.
Notice repeated words or phrases; they are usually significant.
Finally, have fun and enjoy the show!!!
WHAT’S IN A REVIEW? LET”S REVIEW
Being a music critic has its rewards -- but it also has its drawbacks. On one hand, you get to go to lots of concerts -- and you get in free. On the other hand, you can't just sit back and enjoy the listening experience. You spend most of the time analyzing, evaluating and scribbling notes about what you're hearing and seeing.
One especially difficult part of the job is deciding the star ratings. Reviewers are required to rate performances on a five-star scale, five being the highest rating.
Musical interpretation and expression: Did the soloist/ensemble project and capture the spirit of the work?
Technical execution: Was this an accurate, well prepared performance?
Creativity and originality: Did the conductor/musicians bring their own personality to the work, possibly showing us something new?
Programming: Was this a well-balanced, cohesive combination of musical choices?
Quality/style of works: This applies especially to new works.
Venue: Was it suitable for the genre of show, offering good acoustics and sightlines?
Costuming (in opera or some pops concerts): Did they add authenticity and flair to the performance?
Choreography (opera and some pops concerts): Was it well done, creative and suitable?
Demeanour: Did the performers project personality, confidence, energy, etc. and connect with the audience?
Atmosphere: What was the overall feeling at this concert? Was it an event? Was there warmth, excitement, etc.?
Introductory remarks: Were they useful in giving us background that would enhance the listening experience or were they just lengthy lists of housekeeping items that detracted from the reason we were there?
Considerations contributing to an overall rating
One thing we can't ignore, as human beings, is the gut feeling we get at a concert. This is the intuitive, perhaps partly emotional reaction to a performance. Every work and every performance contributes to the whole, and not until the end can one render a decision.
Optional Activity #1 – A Review