Exactly What Defines an Opera? Does Anybody Know?

By Admin

Rock meets opera, what an idea! In the art world, it is not uncommon for artists to try to push the boundaries of their medium. They often like to experiment and combine one art form with another and create an entirely new genre. Such is the case with rock music and the opera.

One of the main problems with the forming of any new genre is trying to get an exact definition. In the case of rock opera, it is even harder than normal. This stems from the fact that there does not seem to be one clear and concise definition of the opera.

There are those that claim an opera is a dramatic piece of work preformed onstage that has no dialogue. There are operas that meet with this definition. However, not all operas, including those that are considered to be classical, fit into this strict characterization. In fact, many of the oldest operas feature an extensive amount of dialogue. Additionally, many of the operas that date back to the classical and romantic periods feature roles that do not have any singing parts.

There is even a term for the dialogue in opera, which  is often called a recitative. The person delivering a recitative was permitted to use ordinary speech patterns. They did not sing this part of the drama. The words that were spoken were not set to the music, although in numerous operas there was music playing lightly in the background.  Later operas and productions often removed the background music entirely.

What makes opera even more confusing is the introduction of the operetta and the musical. An operetta is generally defined as an opera which is light in both its theme and its musical score. Historians say that this genre of the opera is derived from what the French called the opera comique or the comic opera. The Italians used another term for this type of humorous opera entitled “opera buffa” to describe an opera that is more informal and up-beat than a Grand opera. Both styles of the opera evolved in an effort to please the common man, or the peasant class.

A grand opera is generally defined as very lavish stage production. These productions would feature an enormous cast, elaborate costumes and the plot would often revolve around historical events. One main requirement, of this type of opera, was that it feature at least one major ballet number. The dance section was extremely important and normally occurred in the first or second act.

The definition for a musical is a stage or film production that combines singing, dancing and dialogue. The only argument that any has as to how this differs from an opera is that there is more importance placed on the dialogue than on the singing potion of the performance. People often say that you could remove the music portion of many musicals and still have an entire show whereas if you did this in an opera, you would have almost nothing left. The music in opera is often used as a way of moving the action and the plot forwards.

As you can clearly see there is not a whole lot of difference between any of these stage shows. In fact, many musicals are often classed as operas and many operas are often called musicals or operettas. The defining term is usually decided by the composer or writer of the production. However, in recent years many production houses prefer to list shows that would have been previously classed as operas as musicals because the general audience has a much greater acceptance of a production that is considered to be a musical. They find that people are more inclined to go to a musical than an opera.

The rock opera only confuses the issue even more. If you were to type the word rock opera into a search engine you will rapidly discover that you not only get stage productions, but concept albums as well. Many people list albums like Rush’s “2112” and Genesis’ “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” under the heading rock operas.

Other people claim that these are not operas at all. Rather, they are concept albums. A true rock opera is more along the lines of the Who’s “Tommy” or the production of “Hair” or “Jesus Christ Superstar”. There are those who claim that you can even include “The Little shop of Horrors” and “The Rock Horror Picture Show” as examples.

When all is said and done, perhaps the name really does not matter. What is important is that the music and the show is entertaining and fun to watch!

Categories : Opera Blog

Leave a Comment