Stage & Screen
Opera: What is Opera? (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: What is opera?
As a class we’re going to create an ideas board for what you already know or think about opera.
Now listen to these different pieces of music: what things do they all have in common?
Are you able to use any musical words to help make your answer more specific – e.g. dynamics or tempo?
Only one of these tracks comes from an opera. It isn’t easy to tell which one it is… can you do it?
An opera is an extended dramatic work that is set almost entirely to music. The story is sung by singers and accompanied by instruments.
SECTION 2: What goes into creating an opera?
Look below at some of the ingredients of an opera and its performance. What else can we add?
Think about what or who is needed before the production reaches the stage, and think about the things that you would expect to see if you went to watch a play or a film.
Because an opera has many people involved in putting it together, a lot of money is needed to pay for everything. Operas can be big and colourful, with elaborate staging, costumes and scenery – particularly if the story is set in a magical land or faraway place! Watch this short clip and see how some of your ideas above are being used to create a great piece of theatre.
SECTION 3: Overtures
An opera nearly always starts with an overture. It is a piece of music that is played by the orchestra on its own, with nothing yet happening on stage. It often includes snippets of the music to come throughout the opera, and it sets the scene. Listen to these two overtures and imagine the sort of story that each opera might be about.
Your teacher will now give you the basic plots (stories) of the operas that these tracks come from. Choose one of these plots and think about how you would stage the whole opera, using the different ingredients from Section 2. For example, what might the costumes look like? How would you use the lights? What scenery might you have?
Be really creative in your ideas – imagine that you have an unlimited amount of money to spend on producing the opera!
SECTION 4: Recitatives and arias
There are two main types of singing in an opera: recitatives and arias. Listen to these four extracts of music and, using the information below, decide which are recitatives and which are arias.
Now that we know a lot more about opera, are you able to create a new ideas board about ‘What is opera’?
Aria: A solo song for a character in an opera
Dynamics: The volume (degrees of loud and quiet) in a piece of music
Overture: Orchestral music at the beginning of an opera
Recitative: Also known as ‘sung speech’ – a section in an opera that moves the story along.
Tempo: The speed of a piece of music
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.