Appreciating Music

Exploring Opera

Twelve sessions to explore how the art forms of music, poetry, theatre, literature, scenery and dance come together to create a work which can be both engaging, deeply moving and fun. The sessions will include works by Mozart and Verdi. We will explore a single work over more than one session to have a chance to deepen into the plot and the music. All are welcome – no experience or knowledge of classical music required.

Tuesday mornings from 5th January to 23rd March 2021 – 2 hour sessions from 10am to 12 noon

Half term break on 16th February

This class is now full. You can sign up to hear about future sessions.

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Opera course learning resources

The playlist

Remember you can use Tune my Music to convert it to a YouTube or Spotify or other playlist if you don’t want to use Deezer. I have heard that on a mobile device Deezer is limited to 30 seconds of each track, but on a laptop or computer you can hear the entire tracks as long as you are signed up here (free version with adverts or monthly fee for higher quality sound). The playlist address is https://www.deezer.com/en/playlist/8573812622

Book ideas

A History of Opera by Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parker. 

The Gilded Stage: A Social History of Opera by Daniel Snowman (see video talk below under week 1)

A simple glossary (by Ron David)

Aria A “song” from an opera. It may either stop the action or advance it.

Arioso Slightly melodic; partway between Aria and Recitative; it doesn’t stop the action.

Bel Canto (Italian, “Beautiful singing”) A 19th-century school of singing & composing; the operas of Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini.

Claque (French) People hired to applaud one singer and/or boo another

Coloratura The most florid and technically demanding kind of singing. The term usually refers to a soprano but it can apply to any voice category.

Diva (Italian, “Goddess”) An over-the-top term for your favourite soprano.

Fioritura (Italian, “flowering”) Vocal embellishments that singers (or composers) add to an Aria.

Intermezzo Music written for the middle of an Act, usually indicating the passage of time.

Legato (Italian, “connected”) A musical direction to tie the notes smoothly together.

Leitmotif A short tune representing characters or ideas that reached its pinnacle in Wagner’s operas.

Libretto (Italian, “little book”) The text or words of an opera.

Lieder (German, “songs”) German “art” songs, usually sung by opera singers.

Music Drama To Wagner, conventional opera was a series of action-stopping musical numbers. Wagner’s ideal was the perfect non-stop unity of Words & Music, which he called Music Drama.

Opera Buffa (Italian, “Comic Opera”) It’s supposed to make you laugh.

Opera Comique A French term, usually referring to “operas” with spoken dialogue between arias.

Opera Seria (Italian. “Serious Opera”) It’s not supposed to make you laugh…but sometimes it does.

Operetta It has lighter music and is non-Italian (e.g., Viennese Operetta or Gilbert & Sullivan)

Oratorio A religious, opera-like composition with no action; the singers just stand there and sing.

Overture A piece of instrumental music (usually about ten minutes long) played before the opera.

Recitative The talk-like part of the opera between arias, duets, etc—esp. in earlier opera.

Singspiel (German, “singing play”) A German “working class” opera with spoken dialogue.

Spinto A voice with more brilliance and power than the lighter “lyric” soprano or tenor, yet not as robust as the “dramatic” soprano or tenor.

Squillo (Italian, “ring”—ring, as in a bell). The voice’s penetrating power and “ping.” If a voice sends a shiver up your spine and gives you chills, it has “squillo.”

Staccato The opposite of Legato—each note is hit quickly and separately (like left-jabs).

Trill The rapid alternation of two separate notes—a fancy Bel Canto trick.

Verismo (Italian) Naturalistic opera, often violent (Cav & Pag), sometimes not (La Boheme).

Week 1

You can explore the origins of Italian opera here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intermedio – this one survives and is on the playlist: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pilgrim_Woman

You may like to think about the following themes:

  • how does music tell a story?
  • when you hear music, do you notice the words or the music first?
  • when you hear or watch an opera, how do you divide your attention between the story, the music, and any other aspects of the production?
  • how do you understand what makes an opera?
  • do the music and the words sometimes tell a different story (e.g. unsympathetic characters given highly engaging music)?
  • think about some operas you know. Are they about mythological characters, royalty, or about ordinary people?
  • do these operas seem believable or realistic? Does it matter to you if they are or not?

Some listening

Mozart’s “Der Hölle Rache” https://www.liveabout.com/der-holle-rache-lyrics-724325

Handel’s Fra l’ombre and O ruddier than the cherry

https://www.london-handel-festival.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Acis__Galatea.pdf

Bellini’s Casta Diva https://www.liveabout.com/casta-diva-lyrics-translation-and-history-724008

Week 2

We will be exploring the Orpheus and Eurydice legend and the origins of opera. You can prepare for the sessions by reading about the story here and then by exploring the opera by Monteverdi. We will also at least touch on operas by Peri, Rossi, Gluck and Offenbach on the same theme. More info about the Monteverdi version here: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/musicapp_historical/chapter/1-6-1-lorfeo-monteverdi/

Why do you think this legend has been used as the subject for so many operas?

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