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Opera 101

An Introduction to Opera

What is it about opera that has an admittedly small proportion of the music-loving public enthralled?
This combination of great music and drama together has the ability, at its best, to transport you. Goose
bumps and everything…


One Hour Opera Presentation

Enjoyable, accessible music from different styles of opera will be presented with explanatory commentary.

For a presentation to your group, contact Carol Crocca at

Contrary to popular misconception, opera is not an elitist pursuit. Anyone who wants to open his or her ears may enjoy it. You can purchase a marvelous DVD of most operas for less than the cost of any ticket. And in Rochester there are many opportunities to enjoy opera without spending a lot of money. (See ‘Operatunities’ in Viva Voce, our newsletter.)


There is no shame in knowing and loving only a few operas or a certain kind of opera. Although opera snobs may exist, ignore them. If you feel ignorant, do not apologize. It is passion that is the true hallmark of the operagoer. And this is, in fact, the nub of the thing: the goal of almost every opera is to move you – if you want intellectual stimulation or history education, look elsewhere. I have a few pretensions to opera knowledge myself, and though I can now surprise myself by the new operas I encounter and enjoy, I still love that most popular La Traviata and don’t think I will ever tire of it.

It is true that opera plots can considerably strain your ability to suspend your disbelief. Or don’t seem relevant to today’s circumstances. But if you can put yourself in the character’s shoes, the portrayal of human emotion is completely engaging.

What all operas have in common is that the music is an integral part of the drama. Most are continuously sung, although some forms have spoken dialogue. The singing is special and difficult. The main difference between opera singing and other kinds is that the opera singer learns to constantly support the singing with complex breath control, which allows both amazing projection (opera singers do not use microphones, even at the Met) and the execution of difficult to sing and lengthy passages not found in other genres.

Opera is 400 years old and has, naturally, changed during those centuries since 1600. In the beginning there was Baroque opera, both French and Italian; there followed opera seria, opera buffa and opera semiseria from the 18TH century; French grand opera, Wagnerian, romantic and verismo opera from the 19TH century, and all kinds of opera from the 20TH century onwards.

My point here is not to confound you with all these types, but to say that you may hate one kind of opera while adoring another. The great news is that after 400 years, literally thousands of bad operas have been forgotten and we are now left with the cream of the crop.

Some kinds of opera are easier to like for the average listener. For example, the 19TH century is called the “Golden Century” of Italian opera because it is the source of many of the most popular operas, full of wonderful melodies, which are performed almost continuously around the world, and from which almost anyone can hum or recognize a tune. Some of these operas are Puccini’s La Boheme, Verdi’s La Traviata, and Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. And, although it was not written by an Italian, Bizet’s Carmen must be included in any such list. Is there anyone who cannot hum the Toreador Song?


- Carol Crocca President, Opera Guild of Rochester

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