Understanding Opera

By Admin

OperaMany people are hesitant to go and see an opera because they are under the impression that they will not be able to understand what is happening on stage. They seem to think that an opera is a dramatic stage event where nobody speaks and they all sing in some strange language. This is not even close to the truth.

Are all operas sung in a foreign language?

No, there are numerous operas that are written in English. The language that an opera is preformed in is usually dictated by the language of the composer and the libretto writer. If the composer of the opera was English, or was catering to an English audience, chances are that he composed his work in English.

Many operas are based on English literary works, but when they are transformed into an opera, the composer will often choose to write the opera in their native tongue.

Can you translate Operas?

Operas are not translated into other languages very often, but there are some that have been translated. In certain instances, people have taken the librettos and altered the words, changing some of the dialogue to make the translation smoother. A good example is the opera Romeo and Juliette, which has been performed in a number of languages, and each one is slightly different.

The opera, Don Carlos, composed by Giuseppe Verdi, can be sung in either French or Italian. Mondo della Luna (The World in the Moon) is an Opera by Haydn. Originally done in Italian, it has been preformed as a Singspiel.

One of the keys to any opera is that the lyrics are set to the music. Due to this fact, often when you try to translate the music portion of the opera, it does not work well with the new language.


Which composers normally wrote in English?

Samuel Barber
This wonderful composer is from West Chester, Pennsylvania. He was born in 1919 and died in 1981. Although, he is one on the more modern composers, his operatic works gained worldwide attention. His opera, Vanessa that debuted in 1958 won Samuel a Pulitzer Prize.

Leonard Bernstein
This famous conductor/composer was born in Sharon Massachusetts in 1918. His well known operas include Trouble in Tahiti and Candide. His other works, which are considered “musicals”, include On the Town and the famous West Side Story, which is a modern version of Romeo and Juliette.

Aaron Copland
Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1900, he is referred to as “the Dean of American Composers”. His most notable opera is entitled, The Tender Land.

Arthur Sullivan
Sullivan was born Lambeth, London in 1842. Arthur is best known for his collaborations with librettist W.S. Gilbert. Their operatic works together include The Mikado, The H.M.S Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance.

Henry Purcell
Henry was born in London in 1659. His opera Dido and Aeneas is a three act baroque opera. It was said to have made its debut in 1688.

Benjamin Britten
This opera composer was born in Suffolk, England in 1913. Before his death in 1976, he composed more than a dozen operas. His operatic works include Let’s Make an Opera, which is an opera that was written to entertain very young children.

His other works, which include Peter Grimes, Billy Budd, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Beggar’s Opera, have been preformed all over the world. He is considered one of the best operatic composers of the 20th century.

How will I know what is going on?

Many operas are based on well known literary works. Although, the librettist may take some liberties when creating their work (in the same way that screens writers are often forced to change details and parts of a story when they are turning a novel into a movie), you will have a general idea of the plot.

Many of Shakespeare’s plays have been changed into operas, as have many of the Greek myths. You can also go and see a number of other classic tales, including, Paul Bunyan and Robin Hood.

Opera houses appreciate that many members of the audience want to know exactly what the cast is saying. Therefore, many houses are using technology to aid them in this endeavour. There are a number of opera houses, which have installed giant screen displays for their patrons to see during the performance. The screen provides what amounts to subtitles for the action that is occurring on stage. Some opera houses have even begun to install monitors for their guests to use in the boxes.

Rather than snubbing your nose at the idea of going to an opera, you should investigate what shows are on in your area and really think about going to see one in person. You will be pleasantly surprised!

Categories : Opera Blog

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