Have you ever seen a play? Have you ever seen actors performing on stage? It’s like watching a real-life movie. And it can be very exciting.
Well, an opera is a play with music. In opera, the performers on the stage are normally singers, instead of actors. The story is told in song and by the music from the orchestra. And just like plays, operas can also be very exciting. I think opera is one of the most exciting type of music there is. Not only is there music to listen to, but there is a stage to watch and a story to think about. Opera fills the ears, eyes and mind.
Unfortunately many people don’t think opera is very exciting at all. When many people think of opera they think of a woman standing on stage making an awful sound. They imagine this woman screeching at the top of her voice. I must admit opera does sound like that sometimes (see the video on the Wagner page, for example). However these sounds are always part of a story. It doesn’t make any sense to listen to these sounds without knowing the story. Suppose a man watched a tiny bit of a movie and saw something he didn’t like, such as a great big spider. What would you think if he then said all movies were horrible? You would probably think he was very silly. There are all sorts of movies, aren’t there? And anyway, if he’d watched the whole movie, and not just the spider bit, perhaps he wouldn’t even think the spider bit was so bad.
It’s the same with opera. There are all sorts of opera around. And you need to watch and listen to a whole opera to understand what’s going on.
I wonder if you’ve seen the movie Mamma Mia!? This was a movie with songs by the 1970s pop group ABBA. And it was one of the most popular movies ever made. But why was it so popular? I think it was so popular because it was a movie with exciting and fun music!
Well, Mamma Mia! is a sort of opera. It is a story told with music. Not only that, but the movie is actually a copy of a show for the stage. You can still see Mamma Mia! on stage in London.
The only difference between Mamma Mia! and normal opera is the type of music. The music of opera is classical music. The music of Mamma Mia! is popular music. Shows like Mamma Mia! that use popular music are normally called musicals.
So that’s what opera is. Many famous composers have written opera. In fact, most famous composers at least tried to compose opera, even if they didn’t really manage it. One of the main exceptions to this is Bach. He did not even try to write opera, although he did write music to tell stories in church.
Here are some of the composers famous for their opera:
- Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643)
- George Frideric Handel (1685–1759)
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
- Richard Wagner (1813–1883)
- Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901)
- Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924)
- Benjamin Britten (1913–1976)
And this is just a start! So go on, start exploring the exciting world of opera! To get some idea of just how exciting opera can be, take a look at this short video (this is from Puccini’s La Bohème). You can’t see the orchestra, but it will be underneath and in front of the stage.
Pucinni’s La Boheme (beginning of Act II)
- Inside a typical European opera house. This photograph is of the inside of Teatro La Fenice (The Phoenix) opera house in Venice. It was taken by Pavel Krok in 2005. The image free to use providing one credits the photographer. Click here for the source of this image, along with the relevant copyright information.
- Puccini: La Boheme (Opus Arte). www.opusarte.com / Giancarlo del Monaco’s one million euro production of Puccini’s popular masterpiece takes its place among the great interpretations of modern times. Jesús Lopez Cobos directs an outstanding cast, led by Inva Mula and Aquiles Machado as Mimi and Rodolfo, in a landmark recording. More info at: www.opusarte.com.