New to Opera? No Problem!

Charlottesville Opera productions are the perfect introduction to opera, with exciting productions starring the industry's rising stars -- and always under three hours. Opera is a thrilling and dramatic art form, and can be appreciated by audiences new and returning. Below, we'll introduce you to some handy lingo, etiquette tips, and basic facts to start off your operatic education.

Want to learn more? All Charlottesville Opera ticket holders are invited to enlightening and engaging lectures before every performance.


WILL I UNDERSTAND THE SINGERS?

Operas have been written and performed in almost every language on earth. Luckily, surtitles - translations projected over the stage - make it easy to understand what is happening onstage. All operas presented by Charlottesville Opera, even those in English, have surtitles for every performance. Moreover, composers of opera write music that expresses the emotions of the story, so even if you can't understand the words exactly, you'll be able to feel their meaning.


WHAT SHOULD I WEAR TO AN OPERA?

While operas were once frequently a black-tie event, operas today are enjoyed by a large variety of people and in many settings. Audiences at Charlottesville Opera productions are typically dressy, but not formal.


WHEN DO I CLAP?

The performers always appreciate audience enthusiasm, especially after a well-sung aria or duet. Some operas have clear pauses during which to clap, but, when in doubt, follow the crowd.


Traditionally, an opera is completely sung and a musical features songs with spoken dialogue in between. However, there are numerous exceptions to this rule, and both genres have changed greatly throughout the years.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN OPERA AND A MUSICAL?


A composer writes the music in an opera or musical. He or she uses a libretto - a text written by another person (the librettist) - as the inspiration of his or her music. A score is the final version of the music.

WHO WRITES THE OPERA?


WHERE DOES A LIBRETTO COME FROM?

Librettos are sometimes based on novels or plays. For instance, La traviata by Giuseppe Verdi is based on the play La dame aux Camélias. Other operas are based on historical events, like Nixon in China by John Adams, or even on paintings, such as Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian Carlo Menotti, which is based on a work by Hieronymus Bosch. Most composers use texts written by another person, a librettist, but some, like Richard Wagner, wrote the words themselves.


WHO ARE THE PEOPLE SINGING ONSTAGE?

Charlottesville Opera singers are highly-trained professionals from all over the country. Our Principal Artists come from some of the best opera houses in America, including the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, and Washington National Opera, while our Young Artists and Apprentice Singers are recent graduates or current students pursuing degrees in vocal performance.

Opera singers train their whole lives: they study with voice teachers and coaches, attend hours-long rehearsals, and practice for hours every day. On top of all that, they maintain their health and strength in order to be heard by hundreds of audience members without amplification. Singers also have had to study foreign languages and acting in addition to voice. Singers are generally grouped into four categories: soprano and mezzo-soprano for women, and tenor and baritone for men. However, there is a huge variety of voices, and the music of each opera often necessitates a particular set of skills.


A conductor guides the soloists, chorus, and orchestra during performances. He or she uses physical gestures to demonstrate the desired tempo (musical speed) and dynamics (loudness or softness), or to tell musicians when to start and stop playing or singing. A conductor not only enables all the musicians to play and sing together as a cohesive unit, but can use his or her choice of gestures to emphasize the emotions of the score.

WHAT DOES A CONDUCTOR DO?


The very first operas were written in Italy in the 16th century. Even the earliest operas told epic and dramatic stories, often about love, hate, vengeance, and heroism: The very first opera was written by Jacopo Peri and told the ancient Greek story of Daphne, a nymph who turned into a tree to escape the unwanted affections of the god Apollo. Today, operas continue to speak to the most basic human emotions, combining music, drama, stagecraft, and dance, making opera an artistic experience unlike any other.

WHEN WAS OPERA FIRST WRITTEN?