A capella. [ah kah-peh-lah] (Italian)
Literally, "in the chapel." Choral music sung without instrumental
Act. One of the main divisions of a drama, opera or ballet,
usually completing a part of the action and often having a climax of its
Adagio/Adagietto. [ah-dah-jee-oh; ah dah-jee-eh-toh] (Italian)
"Slowly." Indicates a slow tempo. Adagietto is also a slow tempo, but
not as slow as adagio.
Allegro/Allegretto. [ah-lay-groh; ah-lay-greh-toh] (Italian)
"Merry," "cheerful." Indicates a fast tempo. Allegretto is slightly
slower than allegro and implies a lighter style.
Andante/Andantino. [ahn-dahn-tay; ahn-dahn-tee-noh] (Italian)
From the verb andare, "to walk." Implies a moderate, "walking" tempo.
Similarly, andantino (the diminutive of andante) could imply a tempo
either faster or slower than andante.
Aria. [ah-ree-ah] A song sung by one person. In Italian, aria
means "air," "style," "manner." The aria had a central place in early
opera and throughout operatic history, arias have been used to highlight
an emotional state of mind and accentuate the main characters.
Baritone. The most common category of the male voice; lower
than a tenor, but higher than a bass. Baritones were more commonly used
in during the Romantic opera era.
Bass. The lowest male voice. Many bass roles are associated
with characters of authority or comedy.
Brava. "Well done" in Italian. Audiences
say this to a female artist to express their appreciation.
Bravo. "Well done" in Italian. Audiences say this to a male
artist to express their appreciation.
Bravi. "Well done" in Italian. Audiences say this a group of
performers to express their appreciation.
Buffa. Exaggerated comedic opera. From the Latin bufo meaning
toad and from the Italian Buffone, which were inflated gloves that
actors used to exchange comic blows on the stage.
Chorus. A group of singers usually divided into sections based
on vocal range. The chorus was originally an ancient Greek practice of
underscoring portions of the drama through music. The chorus is often
used for crowd scenes and to play minor characters.
Composer. The person who writes the vocal and/or orchestral
Conductor. The person in charge of all the musical aspects of
an opera; both orchestrally and vocally.
Costumes. The clothing worn on stage by the performers.
Costumes can be used to reflect the personality of a character, the
historical time period, country of origin or social ranking.
Designers. The people who create the sets, costumes, make-up,
wigs and lighting for the opera performance.
Dynamics. The degrees of volume (loudness and softness) in
music. Also the words, abbreviations, and symbols used to indicate
degrees of volume. Piano (soft) and forte (loud) are most common.
Duet. Two people singing together.
Finale. The ending segment of an act or scene.
Harmony. Harmony is the chordal or vertical structure of a
piece of music, as opposed to melody (and polyphony, or multiple
melodies) which represents the horizontal structure. The succession of
chords in a given piece is referred to as a chord progression.
Leitmotif. A theme or other musical idea the represents or
symbolizes a person, object, place, idea, state of mind, supernatural
force or some other ingredient in a dramatic work. An idea used widely
throughout German opera, though associated with Richard Wagner in most
of his operas.
Librettist. The person who writes the text (words) of the
Libretto. [lih-breh-toh] The text of the opera. In Italian, it
means "little book."
Lyrics. Words of an opera or of a song.
Musical. A staged story similar to opera, though most of the
dialogue is spoken.
Opera. A staged musical work in which some or all of the parts
are sung. In Italian, the word "opera" means a work which is derived as
the plural of the Latin opus. Opera is a union of music, drama and
Orchestra. A group of musicians led by the conductor who
accompany the singers.
Orchestra Pit. A sunken area in front of the stage where the
Overture. An orchestral introduction played before the action
begins. The overture is often used to set the mood of the opera. Many
composers used the overture to introduce themes or arias within the
opera and sometimes the overture became more well known than the opera
Pants Role. A young male character who is sung by a woman,
usually a mezzo-soprano, meant to imitate the sound of a boy whose voice
has not yet changed.
Props. The visual elements of a scene other than the set.
Furniture is called "set props" and smaller items (anything held by the
performer) are called "hand props."
Quartet. Four people singing together.
Recitative. Dialogue which is "sing-speak." The recitative
helps get through a lot of text quickly and moves the action along.
Often precedes an aria or ensemble.
Set. The visual background on stage. The set shows the
location of the action.
Soprano. The highest female voice. The soprano is commonly the
lead female character.
Tempo. The speed of the music.
Tenor. The highest natural male voice. Often the lead male
character within the opera.