Monday, July 6, 2015

All About Opera - The Cliff Notes for Beginners


What should I wear to see an opera? 
In Europe the dress does tend to run very formal (black tie) for every performance. Here in America, people do choose to make it a night out with fancy dress for a night at the opera, but honestly you can wear whatever you want. Here though, Silicon Valley work attire is just fine. Lo Speziale is an opera about drug dealers and wacky hijinks so whatever makes you ready to laugh is fine!

Most operas aren't sung in English so how will I know what's going on? 
Nowadays most operas project English translations (called surtitles or supertitles) above the stage. For Lo Speziale the production team has even updated the supertitles to reflect their Breaking Bad parody. 

Can I bring kids?
Generally, opera is better suited to older children because the stories often contain adult themes, and following the supertitles can be difficult for new readers. When bringing a child to the opera, it is helpful to explain the story in advance and instruct them on proper audience behavior - things like no talking and no kicking the seats. Lo Speziale is rated PG-13 for drug references, and adult language and gestures. 

How long does the opera last? Is there an intermission?
Running times vary per opera, but most run 2-3 hours in length, like most Broadway musicals. Some operas have two intermissions. Lo Speziale, however, is quite short as it has an approximate run time of 95 minutes which does include one 15 minute intermission. 

When should I clap?
At the end of big arias (solos) during an Italian opera (not during a heavy Wagnerian type opera - it's considered rude), at the end of each scene, and, of course, at the final curtain call. If you really enjoyed a singer's performance, during the curtain call feel free to shout out "Bravo!" (for a male performer), "Brava!" (for a woman) or "Bravi!" (for a group) - every performer loves an appreciative audience!

Any thing else I should know?
Please remain quiet from the time the orchestra starts (the overture is part of the opera, too!) so that everyone around you can enjoy the music. Don't open candy or gum wrappers, talk, use your cell phone or anything that lights up or goes beep during the performance. There is no photography or unauthorized recording during the show. Please do not sing along, tap in time, get up and move around or try to read your program while the performance is in progress - it's really distracting to the people around you! It is, however, quite alright to laugh! Lo Speziale is a comedy so enjoy it! Actors love to hear laughter in the audience! 

Opera Terms

Act. One of the main divisions of a drama, opera or ballet, usually completing a part of the action and often having a climax of its own.

Aria. [ah-ree-ah] A song sung by one person. In Italian, aria means "air," "style," "manner." The aria had a central place in early opera and throughout operatic history, arias have been used to highlight an emotional state of mind and accentuate the main characters.

Baritone. The most common category of the male voice; lower than a tenor, but higher than a bass. Baritones were more commonly used in during the Romantic opera era.

Bass. The lowest male voice. Many bass roles are associated with characters of authority or comedy.

Buffa. Opera buffa is a genre of opera that began in Naples in the mid-18th century. It's an exaggerated comedic opera that developed from the interludes performed between acts of the more serious operas. Opera buffa tends to have only two acts whereas opera seria (the more serious tragic operas) generally have three acts. The best known opera buffa is Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. Lo Speziale is an opera buffa.

cadenza - Near the end of an aria, a series of difficult, fast high notes that allow the singer to demonstrate vocal ability.

coloratura soprano - A very high pitched soprano. also the description of singing which pertains to great feats of agility - fast singing, high singing, trills, and embellishments.

Composer. The person who writes the vocal and/or orchestral music (score).

Conductor. The person in charge of all the musical aspects of an opera; both orchestrally and vocally.

crescendo - Getting progressively louder.

diminuendo - Getting progressively softer.

Dynamics. The degrees of volume (loudness and softness) in music. Also the words, abbreviations, and symbols used to indicate degrees of volume. Piano (soft) and forte (loud) are most common.

Duet. Two people singing together.

finale - Last song of an act, usually involving a large number of singers.

Harmony. Harmony is the chordal or vertical structure of a piece of music, as opposed to melody (and polyphony, or multiple melodies) which represents the horizontal structure. The succession of chords in a given piece is referred to as a chord progression.

Librettist. The person who writes the text (words) of the opera.

Libretto. [lih-breh-toh] The text of the opera. In Italian, it means "little book."

Lyrics. Words of an opera or of a song.

Opera. A staged musical work in which some or all of the parts are sung. In Italian, the word "opera" means a work which is derived as the plural of the Latin opus. Opera is a union of music, drama and spectacle.

Overture. An orchestral introduction played before the action begins. The overture is often used to set the mood of the opera. Many composers used the overture to introduce themes or arias within the opera and sometimes the overture became more well known than the opera itself.

Pants Role. A young male character who is sung by a woman, usually a mezzo-soprano, meant to imitate the sound of a boy whose voice has not yet changed. In Lo Speziale, the role of Volpino is traditionally a pants role. 

Quartet. Four people singing together.

Recitative. Dialogue which is "sing-speak." The recitative helps get through a lot of text quickly and moves the action along. Often precedes an aria or ensemble.

Soprano. The highest female voice. The soprano is commonly the lead female character.

Tempo. The speed of the music.

Tenor. The highest natural male voice. Often the lead male character within the opera.

Trio. Three people singing together.

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