Stage & Screen
Opera: Serious or Comic? (with a teacher)
This activity is for classroom use. Your teacher will have further material to use alongside the clips and information below.
SECTION 1: Serious or comic?
What do you think would need to be included to make a story either serious or comic (funny)?
Two types of opera grew up in Italy in the 18th century: opera seria (‘serious opera’) and opera buffa (‘comic opera’). Often these different types of opera were written for different audiences and had different types of stories. Can you correctly sort the different descriptions below as to whether they belong to opera seria or opera buffa?
SECTION 2: Basso buffo
Watch these two videos from different operas and compare them. What is different about them and what do they have in common?
Which piece of music do you think is more comic and lighthearted, and which appears more serious? Can you give a reason for your answer?
Opera buffa created a new type of role for the bass voice – basso buffo – a funny/comedic bass. The arias for a basso buffo were often light-hearted, made fun of characters on stage, or included jokes. Sometimes the singer might sing the words in an exaggerated way to be funny. Listen to the following clips from different operas: which ones do you think are for a basso buffo?
SECTION 3: Compose your own
Now it’s your turn to create your own piece of music! In a group, you will decide whether to create a piece of music that is from an opera seria or opera buffa. Your teacher will give you a checklist to help ensure that you use the right musical ingredients for your choice.
SECTION 4: Oratorios and operettas
Two other genres related to opera are oratorio and operetta. Look at the descriptions below and then decide which of the following pieces of music fits which genre.
Listen to the words. One word in particular gives the game away!
Aria: A solo song for a character in an opera
Articulation: The way in which notes are played, and move from one to the next – e.g. smooth or bouncy
Bass: A low male voice
Basso buffo: A comic role for the bass voice
Dynamics: The volume (degrees of loud and quiet) in a piece of music
Opera buffa: A comic opera based on everyday themes
Opera seria: A serious opera often based on a mythological theme
Oratorio: A long choral work often based on a story from the Bible
Operetta: A light-hearted opera, with singing and speaking – similar to early musical theatre
Pitch: Whether a note is high or low
Soprano: A high female voice
Tempo: The speed of a piece of music
Virtuosic: Requires great skill to be performed
All media credits – titles, composers, artists, sources etc. – may be found in the Teacher Sheet, accessed from the Info box at the top of this page.