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A Love Affair with Opera - Opera Primer

IntroductionGallery of StarsLiving TheaterGlossary


Mezzo soprano -- The female voice which falls between the soprano and the contralto.

Motif -- A short, repeating melody, which is usually made up of only a few notes.


Opera buffa -- A comic opera.

Opera seria -- A formal, serious opera.

Operetta -- A lighthearted opera with spoken dialogue, much like a musical.

Oratorio -- A musical piece for the solo singers, chorus, and orchestra, usually includes words from the bible.

Overture -- An instrumental introduction to an opera, which usually incorporates themes that will be heard later in the opera.


Prima donna -- The female star of an opera.


Quartet -- A piece of music performed by four singers.

Quintet -- A piece of music performed by five singers.


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

Register -- The register is the highness or lowness of music or singing.


Sextet -- A piece of music performed by six singers.

Singspiel -- A musical drama, using spoken dialogue and musical numbers.

Soprano -- The highest female voice.

Soubrette -- A soprano voice or type of soprano role characterized by a flirtatious manner.

Spinto -- A voice with a strong, dramatic edge.

Spinto soprano -- A soprano with a spinto voice.

Surtitles -- Translations of the lines in a foreign-language opera that are projected on the wall above the stage.


Tenor -- The highest male voice.

Trio -- A piece of music that three characters sing together.

Trill -- Two notes that are rapidly and repeatedly alternated.

Trouser or pants role -- A male character that is sung by a woman.


Unison -- When several singers sing the same notes.


Verismo -- A documentary style of opera that involves melodramatic situations.

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