Common Opera Terms


ACCELERANDO an acceleration or speeding up of the tempo of a particular aria, chorus or ensemble.

ACT one of the main divisions of a play or opera.

ALLEGRO musical term for fast and lively.

ALLITERATION repetition of the same sound or letter at the beginning of words.

ANDANTE a musical term meaning in moderately slow time.

ARCHETYPAL the original model or form, after which other things are modeled.

ARIA an operatic song for one voice.

ASCENDING a series of notes going from a low to a high pitch.

ASIDE a secret comment from an actor or singer directly to the audience that the other characters cannot hear.

BAR a division of music containing a set number of beats.

BARITONE the range of the male voice between tenor and bass.

BASS the lowest male singing voice.

BEAT the basic pulse of a piece of music.

BEL CANTO translated as "beautiful singing," a 18th century operatic style noted for its brilliant display of vocal technique.

CHORD a group of notes played at the same time in harmony.

CHOREOGRAPHY the act of setting movement to music to create a dance.

CHORUS 1. a group of singers. 2. a piece of music for these.

COLORATURA 1. runs, trills, and other florid decorations in vocal music. 2. a singer who specializes in such music.

COMPOSER the person who writes the music.

COMPOSTION a work of music, literature, or art.

CONCERTO a musical composition for one or more solo instruments and an orchestra.

CONDUCTOR the leader of the orchestra sometimes called maestro.

COUNTERTENOR a countertenor voice is that of a male contralto, freqently with men singing in their falsetto range.

CRESCENDO a build in the volume or dynamic of the music.

DECRESCENDO gradually playing music softer.

DESIGNER the person who creates the lighting, costumes or sets.

DIRECTOR the person who instructs the singer-actors in their movements on-stage and in the interpretation of their roles.

DUET a musical composition for two performers.

ENSEMBLE two or more people singing at the same time, or the music written for such a group.

FAIRYTALE a story (as for children) involving fantastic forces and beings. (such as fairies, wizards, and goblins)

FINALE the last musical number of an opera or the last number of an act.

FLAT a half-step lower than the corresponding note or key of natural pitch.

FORTE loudly.

FORTISSIMO a musical term for very loud.

HARMONY two or more notes played at the same time; in other words harmony deals with chords, simultaneous sounds, and counterpoint with melody set against melody.

HERO OR HEROINE the principle character at the center of the story who struggles throughout the story, but generally triumphs in some manner at the story's conclusion.

INTERLUDE a short piece of instrumental music played between scenes or acts.

KEY the basic note of the main scale used in a piece of music. In the key of g, for example, g is the fundamentalnote; the music often returns to it and comes to rest on it.

LARGO a musical term meaning in slow time and dignified style.

LIBRETTO the words of an opera or other long musical.

LYRICS the sung words or text of a musical comedy or operetta song.

LIBRETTO the words of an opera or other long musical.

LYRICS the sung words or text of a musical comedy or operetta song.

NATURAL a note that is neither flattened nor sharpened.

OCTAVE a note that sounds twice as high in pitch as another, is an octave above the other note, and has the sameletter naming it.

OPERA a play in which the words are sung to musical accompaniment.

OPERA BUFFA comic opera.

OPERA SERIA serious opera with dramatic and intense plots.

OPUS a musical composition numbered as one of a composer's works (usually in order of publication).

ORCHESTRA a body of people playing various musical instruments, including stringed and wind instruments.

ORCHESTRATION the art of writing for the orchestra and deciding what instruments should play which parts of the music.

OVERTURE an orchestral composition forming a prelude to an opera or ballet.

PIANISSIMO a musical term meaning very softly.

PIANO 1. a musical term meaning softly. 2. keyed percussion instrument first named pianoforte because it could play both softly and loudly.

PITCH the highness/lowness of a sound or tone.

PRESTO a musical term meaning very fast.

PRINCIPAL a major singing role, or the singer who performs such a role.

QUARTET music that is written for four musicians.

RALLENTANDO a musical direction term meaning getting slower.

RANGE how high and low an instrument can play.

RECITATIVE a narrative or conversational part of an opera, sung in a rhythm imitating that of ordinary speech.

REHEARSAL a session of practice for a performance.

REPRISE a return to an original theme.

RHYME words that share the same sound; (i.e. share/care/bear/stare)

RHYTHM the arrangement of notes according to their relative length and relative emphasis (beat).

RITARD a slowing in the tempo of a piece of music.

SCALE a series of notes arranged in descending or ascending order of pitch.

SCORE the written music of an opera or other musical work.

SEMITONE a half step or half tone, an interval midway between two whole tones.

SHARP any note a semitone higher than another note. also, slightly too high in pitch.

SOLO playing or singing alone, as a featured performer.

SONATA a musical composition for one instrument or two, usually with three or four movements.

SOPRANO the highest female or boy's singing voice.

SYMPHONY a long elaborate musical composition (usually in several parts) for a full orchestra.

TEMPO the speed of the music.

TENOR the highest adult male singing voice.

TONE 1. an interval equal to two semitones. 2. the sound quality of an instrument or voice.

TRILL very quick alternation of pitch between two adjacent notes.

TRIO an ensemble of three singers or the music that is written for three singers.

TUTTI all, meaning that everyone should play or sing together.

UNDERSCORE music that is played softly underneath other action, usually characters talking.

VERISMO a school of opera in Italy that emphasized realistic plots and characters in opera.

VILLAIN a character in a story (or play/musical) that is pitted against the hero and is generally depicted as evil or wicked.