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Opera Lingo

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Act - a formal subdivision of an opera, indicated as such by the composer, often further subdivided into scenes or tableaux.

Aria - Italian word for ‘air’. A song for solo voice with instrumental accompaniment.

Auditorium – the area in the theatre, facing the stage, where the audience sit.

Bass - the lowest of male voices.

Bass-baritone - a male voice which combines the quality of the baritone with the depth of the bass, avoiding the extremes of either range.

Basso Buffo - Italian for ‘bass buffoon’. A comedic character sung by a bass, usually singing quick repeated notes in the very low range.

Black Light - the theatre technique used by EPOC to make things appear and disappear. (see article on pg 116)

Blocking - the moving about of people on stage; in opera rehearsals the stage director creates the patterns of movement that occur while the opera progresses. The process of establishing these patterns is called the blocking.

Bravo - the Italian exclamation of approval shouted by audience members at the end of a particularly exciting aria, scene, act or performance. A female performer is accorded ‘brava’ and multiple performers ‘bravi’. The superlative form is ‘bravissimo’.

Cadenza - near the end of an aria, a series of difficult, fast high notes. allows the singer to demonstrate vocal ability.

Castrato - a male singer whose career as a soprano has been extended beyond puberty by surgical means. The practice of castrating boys so as to provide adult sopranos and contraltos was justified by the Roman Catholic Church interpreting an injunction of St. Paul to the effect that ‘women should keep silent in church.’ Castrati were extremely popular in opera’s early history, especially in countries where women were not allowed to perform in public.

Classical - the period in music that comes after the Baroque period and before the Romantic; the dates are roughly 1756 (the year Mozart was born) to 1830 (three years after the death of Beethoven).

Coloratura - an elaborate ornamentation of melody; therefore, fast, high singing, with trills and embellishments. The role of the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute is a famous coloratura role.
Countertenor - a high male voice, generally singing within the female contralto or mezzo-soprano range.

Crescendo - getting progressively louder.

Diminuendo - getting progressively softer.

Diva - literally, ‘goddess’, a female opera star. Often used to describe a demanding or fussy opera star.

Dress rehearsal – the final rehearsal before the first performance in front of an audience.

Duet - a musical composition for two performers.

Encore - a request by the audience to play again.

Ensemble - literally, ‘together’. A duet, trio, quartet, or chorus. more than one character singing at the same time.

Entr'acte - a musical composition played between acts or between scenes within an act of an opera.

Falsetto - the high part of a man's voice, sounding like a woman's voice.

Finale - last song of an act, usually involving a large number of singers.

Legato - a smooth style of singing or playing.

Leitmotiv - a short musical passage which brings to mind a character or situation in a musical drama.

Libretto - Italian for ‘little book’. The libretto is the text of an opera.

Mezzo-soprano - the female voice between the soprano (highest) and the contralto (lowest).

Opera seria - a formal, serious opera, particularly prevalent in the 18th century.

Operetta - light hearted opera with spoken dialogue, such as a musical.

Orchestra Pit - the area in front of, and slightly beneath, the stage where the orchestra sits.

Overture - the instrumental introduction to an opera. Usually incorporates themes which will be heard later in the opera.

Prima Donna - Italian for ‘first lady’. The female star of an opera.

Raked Stage - a stage which slants upward away from the view of the audience.

Range - the division of the human voice according to six basic types: soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone and bass.

Recitative - singing speech, in which the singer chants the words.

Singspiel - German for ‘sing play’. Early German musical drama, which employed spoken dialogue along with musical numbers.

Soprano - the highest female voice.

Staccato - characterized by short, clipped, rapid articulation.

Stage – the are in a theatre facing the audience where performers present the performance.

Stage Right/Stage Left - the division of the stage from the performer's point of view; when a performer goes stage right, he moves to his own right and to the audience's left.

Tempo - the speed of a musical passage or composition.

Tenor - the highest male voice.

Theatre – the building in which performances take place. The interior is divided into the auditorium and stage.

Trio - a group of three performers or the piece written for them to perform.

Trouser Role - a male character sung by a woman, usually a mezzo soprano. Cherubino in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro is most famous ‘trouser role’. Also known as a ‘breeches part’ or in Italian ‘travesty’.

Upstage/Downstage - the position on stage farthest or nearest the audience. When a performer moves downstage, he goes toward the audience.

Vibrato - the slightly wavering quality that a singer has in his voice while sustaining a tone.