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Frequently Asked Questions:

What’s the difference between operas and musicals?

The boundary between these genres is not always clear! Some say that operas are sung, and musicals have spoken dialogue. However, many comic operas since at least the eighteenth century have featured dialogue. Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) is full of talking! Some not-so-comic operas, including Bizet’s Carmen, were written with spoken dialogue. On the current stage, the distinction is probably in the type of orchestra used, and whether the singers are using artificial amplification. Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, written as an opera, has been successfully produced more than once on Broadway as well as on the opera stage.

Do opera singers wear microphones?

No! This is, in fact, one of the many reasons why opera can only be fully appreciated when experienced live. Opera singers train for years to master breath and muscle control, allowing them to use the natural amplification provided by the space cavities of their chests and heads to project the movement of air through their vocal cords into a sound that carries over the orchestra to the very back of often-large opera houses where they perform.

Where is the fat lady?

Sorry, no fat lady here! The concept that most opera singers are overweight is one of the most persistent myths in the opera world, but for the most part not true. The standards of today’s entertainment industry transcend into the opera world, requiring that opera singers maintain the appearance and shape to portray the roles they sing. Singers may even be required to perform physically demanding roles on stage, such as dancing, fencing, etc. For these reasons, opera singers today are very health-conscious and consider exercise to be an important part of their daily lives.

Will I be able to understand what’s happening on the stage?

Not fluent in Italian or French? Don’t worry! At both the Adrienne Arsht and Broward Centers, Florida Grand Opera offers projected translations – surtitles in English and Spanish that hang over the stage throughout the production.

Whether it’s your first time at the opera or your 50th, we also help interested patrons delve a little deeper into the art form through Justin Moss’s free pre-opera lectures. In the theater one hour before the start of each performance, Justin discusses story line, characters, subtext, and other relevant issues surrounding that evening’s opera.

Beyond understanding what’s being said, opera is about the music. Not only will you be moved by this timeless tradition, but you may also find that you know the music, likely from movies or childhood programming.

Can I afford to go to an opera?

Florida Grand Opera tickets start as low as $11. That’s not much more than a movie ticket, so anyone can come and enjoy the opera.

How do people dress for the opera?

Opinions vary widely here. While there is no required dress code at Florida Grand Opera, many patrons see a night at the opera as a special occasion and a time to dress up. Especially on opening nights and other special events, audience members may sport tuxedos and evening gowns. Others see the opera as a relaxing night out and come casually attired, even wearing jeans. It’s really up to you. If this is your opportunity to show off a new cocktail dress or sharp suit, dress to the nines. Casual is fine too. No glass slippers required, but you can still have a ball!

What else do I need to know when attending an opera?

Here are some simple guidelines to appropriate behavior at the opera:
    • Allow plenty of time to get to the theater. As a courtesy to artists and other patrons, late arrivals will not be
      seated until the first intermission or other musical break.
    • Please turn of any electronic devices before the performance begins.
    • No taking of photographs or video recording are allowed.
    • No food or drinks are permitted in the theater.
    • Children under the age of seven will not be admitted.

Opera Glossary

Act II Ballet – From the time of its founding under Louis XIV, the organization that became the national opera company of France, the Opéra de Paris, included a ballet company, and it produced ballets as well as operas. In the 19th century, audiences expected that a night at the Opéra would feature a ballet. Even Wagner, not normally known for dance music, wrote a ballet for Tannhäuser when it was presented at the Opéra. La traviata, although first presented in Venice, not Paris, contains a ballet in the second act (during the party at Flora Bervoix’s house). The second act of Saint-Saëns’ Lakmé also has a ballet.

Aria – Meaning “air” in Italian, and originally referring to a type of song, aria has come to mean an operatic vocal solo. Operas are full of arias! An example is “Nessun dorma.”from Puccini’s Turandot.

Bel Canto – Literally meaning “beautiful singing,” bel canto refers both to a style of singing and to a type of melody found in the operas of Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti in the early to mid 19th century. It is typified by long, lyrical melodies and also by virtuosic vocal embellishment such as runs and trillscoloratura. Rossini’s La Cenerentola (1817) has many examples of bel canto style.

Coloratura – “Full of color,” this is a style of singing for a voice that is often very high, with lots of agility, such as we hear in Violetta’s “Sempre libera” in Act I of Verdi’s La traviata; however the title role of Rossini’s La Cenerentola is a coloratura role written for a lower mezzo-soprano voice. Lakmé’s “Où va la jeune Hindoue” (the “Bell Song” from Saint-Saëns’ opera) is another fine example of coloratura. The following is an example of a display of coloratura in Gilda’s “Caro nome” aria from Verdi’s Rigoletto.

Intermezzo – An orchestral interlude. An example of a famous intermezzo is the one found in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

Libretto – Italian for “book,” It contains all the words and stage directions for the opera.

Librettist – The person who writes the libretto for the opera. Opera – Derived from the Latin term opus, meaning “work,” opera as we know it was born in Italy at the end of the 16th century.

Opera Buffa – Comic Italian opera developed in the 18th century, this was the forerunner of many later styles, including the French opéra-comique, German Singspiel, and Spanish zarzuela. Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro (1786), Don Giovanni (1787), and Così fan tutte (1790) are late examples.

Opera Seria – Italian “serious opera” was prevalent all over Europe during the 18th century and typically contained no spoken dialogue, with recitative and formal, structured arias, with subject matter focused on mythological figures, divine and royal, with often tragic outcomes. Mozart’s operas Idomeneo, Re di Creta (1781) and La clemenza di Tito (1791) are two late examples.

Recitative – Singing that imitates the rhythms of everyday speech, usually accompanied by keyboard or a small number of instruments, recitative is used to further the action of an opera or set the stage for a following aria.

Verismo – A “realistic” style of opera developed in Italy in the late 19th century that featured common people in realistic situations, instead of royalty or gods, and often called for a more dramatic style of singing than had been known up to then. Although verismo is thought of as Italian, many consider the first lasting verismo opera to be the Frenchman Georges Bizet’s Carmen (1875). Puccini’s operas typify the verismo style.

Voice Types

The soprano is the singer with the highest vocal range. She is usually the female star of the opera who falls in love with the tenor. A lyric coloratura soprano may have a vocal range starting at middle “C” to a high “F” (Mozart’s Queen of the Night pops out several of these notes in Die Zauberflöte) more than two octaves above.

The mezzo-soprano is the female singer with the next highest voice, which has a darker tone than the soprano. She may be the opera’s antagonist. A typical mezzo-soprano’s range may start from the “A” below middle “C” to the high “C” two octaves above. Mezzo-sopranos often play “trouser roles,” acting the part of young men on stage. The operas of Rossini and Richard Strauss provide many wonderful mezzo-soprano roles.

The alto is the female with the lowest vocal range. She may play the part of a wise old woman. She is also known as a contralto. An alto may be able to sing from the “F” below middle “C” to the “G” two octaves above middle “C”.

The tenor is usually the hero of the story and has the highest male vocal range. A tenor’s typical range starts from the “C” one octave below middle “C”, and may extend two octaves higher.

The baritone has a lower vocal range than the tenor. The baritone may also be in love with the soprano but usually loses out to the tenor. He may play the antagonist or a hero who saves the tenor or the soprano in the story. A baritone’s range may start at the second “F” below middle “C” and may extend to the “G” just above middle “C”.

The bass possesses the lowest vocal range. He may portray a wise man or the story’s funnyman. The range of a bass may extend from the second “E” below middle “C” to the “E” just above middle “C”.

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