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New to Opera?

New to Opera?

Glossary of Opera Terms


You’ve had a flight of wine.
How about a flight of opera?

Admit it: you’re curious about opera. But perhaps you’re a little worried you won’t fit in or understand what’s going on. Trust us, all kinds of people attend LA Opera, and if you can read this paragraph, you can read the subtitles we provide right above the action onstage.

We admit, though, that like wine, opera can take a bit of tasting before you get completely hooked (our true intent). So we’ve carefully curated a flight of opera just for virgin taste buds and paired it with some basics to help get you started.

With a newcomer package, you’ll get:

  • A really good deal (15% off)
  • Backstage tour
  • Pre-show discussion about what you’re going to see and hear*
  • “Newbies only” intermission receptions with free wine, of course

If you’re not quite ready for the full flight yet, you can join us at just one newcomer night for a taste of what this package offers.**

See Newcomer Package details >>

upcoming dates for 2018/19 Season:

El Gato Montés: The Wildcat
Wednesday, May 8, 2019
7:30 pm

La Traviata
Thursday, June 13, 2019

7:30 pm



La Bohème
Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019
Probably where the idea
of opera as an aphrodisiac started


Magic Flute
Thursday, November 21, 2019
Animation+Live Action= You gotta see this

The Marriage of Figaro
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
A beloved comedy where the servant
is the real master(mind) 

Learn more about the Newcomer Package and subscription benefits >>

* Preshow talks begin at 6:30 PM; performances begin at 7:30 PM.
** Single performances subject to increased pricing. Buy early for the best price.                           

Official Media Sponsor for Newcomer Nights


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The history of opera as it is presented today in America goes back to the late Renaissance in Italy, when a group of composers "invented" it to resemble what they thought music-drama was like in classical Greece. Opera is produced on a grand scale with great pageantry. Opera is more spectacular than most theater we are used to.

Today, when people think of great opera composers, they tend to think first of the famous Italians of the 19th century, such as Giuseppe Verdi, Gioachino Rossini, and Giacomo Puccini, whose works are known for their lyricism and romanticism. They also may think of the great German composers such as Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss, who are known for their opulent orchestrations and mythological stories, or of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the Austrian-born composer whose brilliant works remain popular today, more than two hundred and fifty years after his death.

The 400-year history of opera is very diverse. Great composers have originated from all across Europe with eternal works by French artist George Bizet, and Czech and Russian composers Antonín Dvořák and Pyotr Tchaikovsky to name just a few. China has its own style of opera and Spain is famous for the zarzuela. There are also English and American operas by composers such as Benjamin Britten, Giancarlo Menotti, Philip Glass, and John Adams.

Operas are usually sung in the language in which they were composed, which means that opera singers must be able to sing in Italian, German, French, Czech, English and other languages. Supertitles are often used so that audiences will understand what is being sung. Supertitles are the words of the opera projected in English on a screen above the stage, just like subtitles used in foreign-language films.

What Makes an Opera Different from a Musical?

The main difference between most operas and musicals such as Wicked is that a musical is a drama told through interweaving songs and music with spoken dialogue, while most operas are sung throughout with little or no spoken dialogue.

But another difference is the musical style. Musical theater performers usually use microphones while opera singers do not.

Opera Singers

Classically-trained singers learn to use their voices so that they can carry over an 80-piece orchestra. They do this by learning to strengthen their diaphragms and project a steady stream of air that helps create a big sound. In addition, they learn to open the physical cavities inside their head and neck to create resonance and amplify the sound that they make so that it will acoustically carry over the orchestra.

Female voices are normally divided into three categories:

  • Soprano (highest)
  • Mezzo-Soprano (middle)
  • Contralto (lowest)

Male voices are usually divided into three categories:

  • Tenor (highest)
  • Baritone (middle)
  • Bass (lowest)

Opera is usually presented on a very grand scale, with large, imposing sets, elaborate and colorful costumes, and stylized stage direction. There is typically a chorus that comments on the action, and dancing is often part of the spectacle.

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Acoustics The science of sound; the qualities of sound in an enclosed space

Aria A solo song that a character uses to express feelings or comment on the story

Baritone The middle male voice; often cast as friendly “everyman” or, conversely, as a villian

Bass The lowest male voice; often cast as kings, priests and older men

Bravo Italian meaning “well done”; opera tradition calls for the audience to shout “bravo!” at the end of an excellent performance

Choreography A dance or the making of a dance; some operas include dance sequences

Chorus A group of singers usually divided into sections of sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses; the opera chorus often represents thegeneral community, who comments on the story and sometimes voice the thoughts, fears and suspicions of the audience

Composer The person who writes the music of an opera or other musical composition

Conductor The musical director of the opera, the conductor leads both the orchestra and the singers

Contralto The lowest female singing voice

Director The person responsible for the dramatic interpretation of an opera

Duet A song for two voices

Dynamics The degree of loudness and softness in the music

Ensemble A French word that means together; a group performing together

Finale The ending segment of an act or scene, often very lively

Leitmotif A recurring musical theme, often a short melody (but also can be a chord progression or rhythm), that is associated with a
particular person, place, or idea

Libretto The text of an opera; literally, “a little book”

Librettist The person who writes the libretto

Mezzo-Soprano The middle range female voice

Musical A staged story told by interweaving songs and music with spoken dialogue

Opera A play that is sung

Orchestra The group of musicians who, led by the conductor, accompany the singers

Overture An introduction to the opera played by the orchestra

Play A staged story told through spoken dialogue

Plot The story or main idea

Recitative A sung speech that moves the action along by providing information

Score The written music of the opera or other musical composition

Set The structures, furniture and decoration on stage

Solo Music sung by one performer

Soprano The highest female voice, usually cast in the leading female role

Tempo The speed of the music

Tenor The highest male voice; young men and heroes are often tenors

Trio Three people singing together; a song for three people

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