An opera is a big production for the stage, like a play, but is has singing all the way through instead of speaking, and the singing can be quite difficult sometimes. The stories of operas are often about love or death (or both!) but they can be about anything at all. A lot of operas have beautiful arias – songs for solo singers. They have overtures, too – pieces for orchestra played right at the beginning.
Do You Know?
See if you can answer the questions below!
● What is the German word for an opera that also includes some spoken sections?
● Which of these composers wrote a lot of opera?
● The German composer Wagner wrote a cycle of four operas lasting c. 15 hours. What is it called?
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791): The Magic Flute (highlights)
This well-loved opera by Mozart was the last one he wrote. Through the power of a magic flute, Tamino and Pamina endure three tests to prove that they are right for each other. There are lovely melodies, and the ‘Queen of the Night’ sings some very high notes. The Magic Flute is called a Singspiel – unlike most operas, it includes speaking as well.
Performers: Herbert Lippert, tenor (Tamino); Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz, soprano (Pamina); Georg Tichy, baritone (Papageno); Hellen Kwon, soprano (Queen of the Night); Kurt Rydl, bass (Sarastro); Wilfried Gahmlich, tenor (Monostatos); Hungarian Festival Chorus; Failoni Orchestra, Budapest; Michael Halász
Taken from Naxos 8.553438
Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868)
Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868): The Barber of Seville (highlights)
Rossini’s The Barber of Seville is a ‘comic’ opera – it is light-hearted and funny. Rosina is rich, beautiful and promised to her elderly guardian Doctor Bartolo. But Count Almaviva wins her heart with the help of the cunning barber Figaro.
Performers: Roberto Servile, baritone (Figaro); Sonia Ganassi, mezzo-soprano (Rosina); Ramon Vargas, tenor (Conte); Angelo Romero, bass (Bartolo); Franco de Grandis, bass (Don Basilio); Ingrid Kertesi, soprano (Berta); Hungarian Radio Chorus; Failoni Chamber Orchestra, Budapest; Will Humburg
Taken from Naxos 8.553436
Gian Carlo Menotti (1911–2007): Amahl and the Night Visitors
Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors was the first opera written for television. A crippled boy, Amahl, and his mother are visited by the three Kings who are on their way to take gifts to the newborn Jesus. When Amahl decides to give his crutch to them for Jesus, his leg is suddenly healed. With tuneful melodies, the opera is a much-loved Christmas classic.
Performers: Ike Hawkersmith, treble (Amahl); Kirsten Gunlogson, mezzo-soprano (Mother); Dean Anthony, tenor (King Kaspar); Todd Thomas, baritone (King Melchior); Kevin Short, bass-baritone (King Balthazar); Bart LeFan, baritone (Page to the Kings); Members of the Nashville Symphony Chorus (George Mabry, director); Members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus (Duain Wolfe, director); Nashville Symphony Orchestra; Alastair Willis
Taken from Naxos 8.669019
Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643): L’Orfeo (excerpts)
L’Orfeo tells the tragic, ill-fated love story of Orfeo and Euridice. It is one of Monteverdi’s greatest masterpieces, and the first opera that is still commonly performed today.
Performers: Cappella Musicale di San Petronio di Bologna, Sergio Vartolo; Alessandro Carmignani, tenor (Orfeo), Cappella Musicale di San Petronio di Bologna, Sergio Vartolo; Rosita Frisani, soprano (Messenger), Cappella Musicale di San Petronio di Bologna, Sergio Vartolo
Taken from Naxos 8.558196-97
Famous Opera Overtures
An opera begins with an overture, which doesn’t have any singing at all. The orchestra plays it while the curtains are still shut, and it often contains tunes that will be sung later in the opera. A lot of opera overtures are famous as pieces on their own, and are played without the rest of the opera.
Performers: Capella Istropolitana*, Barry Wordsworth*; Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra†, Michael Halász†; Zagreb Festival Orchestra§, Michael Halász§; Hungarian State Opera Orchestra‡, Pier Giorgio Morandi‡
Taken from Naxos 8.553627