What is Opera?
If you ask most kids what opera is they'll open their mouths really big and make a high pitched screeching sound. That's NOT opera! An opera is a play in which everything (or most everything) is sung. In an opera there are singers who are also actors, there's an orchestra, there are sets and costumes and even sound effects! This Sesame Street video shows an opera singer explaining about what she does and about opera in general.
Here's a great explanation of opera from Kids Music Corner.
When did it begin?
Opera started in Florence, Italy when a group of people decided to try to re-create Greek plays. Enter Jacopo Peri (1561–1633), who composed Dafne (1597), which most people think is the first opera ever written. From that beginning, two types of opera began to emerge: opera seria which is serious and formal, and opera buffa which is funny and comic. Click here for a brief history of Opera from the San Fransisco Opera
Opera has a lot of it's own language and it's all in Italian since opera started in Italy.
Here are some important opera terms:
Aria - An Aria is a song in an opera. It is about a character's feelings.
Recetative - Recetative is the singing/talking part of the opera. It moves things along quickly.
Vibrato - Vibrato is that shaky way the singers sing. It's on purpose and it adds depth to the sound.
Soprano - The highest woman's singing voice - the soprano is usually the female star of the opera.
Alto - The lower woman's singing voice.
Tenor - The higher man's singing voice - the tenor is usually the male star of the opera.
Bass - The lowest man's singing voice
Here is a playlist of fun videos that explain opera terms
What's the Story?
The story of the opera is really important. Today, it's hard for us to understand the singers - especially when they aren't singing in English! When you're going to an opera it's a good idea to learn about the story first so that you'll be able to follow. Today many operas have supertitles which project the words in English or the language of the country where the performance is taking place.
Here are some summaries of opera plots
Below are two bonus videos. The first is a preview of an online activity in which you get to design your own opera based on Engelbird Humperdink's Hansel and Gretel. You can design your opera here. Teachers can download the lesson plans that accompany this activity.
The second video is "The Bunny of Seville" in which Bugs Bunny appears as Figaro in Puccini's "The Barber of Seville". Even Bugs loves opera!