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Derived from a Spanish term which originally denoted love of bullfighting, it now means devoted fan or enthusiast and is used often to describe opera buffs.


A song for a single voice.


Male singer with an intermediate voice range, the most common voice among adult men.


Male singer with the deepest voice range.

Bel canto

Literally, "beautiful singing." The term can refer to a type of opera that features this expressive style of singing or the actual singing itself, which packs an emotional wallop and features lots of embellishments. (See coloratura )


An enthusiastic expression shouted out by audience members at appropriate moments during (or after) the opera in appreciation for a well-sung aria, ensemble or performance. ("Brava!" is the expression for a female singer; "Bravi!" is the expression for more than one singer.)

Coloratura (cuh-lohr-ah-TOO-rah)

Brilliant vocal acrobatics consisting of rapid notes, runs, and trills; a fundamental element of bel canto opera.


Male singer who sings in a woman's voice range, usually performing roles originally written for castrati--male singers who were castrated as children, primarily in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, to preserve their high, youthful voices.


Literally, "goddess." A term used to categorize a leading soprano who puts on airs or who has been deified by her fans; although not always used as a compliment, the term has gained popularity (and more goddess-like connotations) in the world of popular music and culture.

English captions

Sometimes called surtitles or supratitles, these translations of the sung words, generated electronically during the opera performance, were first introduced in 1983 and revolutionized opera-going, opening it up to new audiences by making the stories and emotions more immediate and accessible.


Literally, "together." Any duet, trio, quartet, or chorus where more than one character sings at the same time.

Grand Opera

A style of opera, popular in the nineteenth century (particularly in France), famous for its pomp and pageantry. It often features elaborate costumes, sets, ballet, and other stage spectacle, as well as large casts.

Leitmotif (LITE-mow-teef)

Literally, "leading motif." A musical device developed by Wagner in which a short melody as brief as three notes references a character, an emotion, or some other element in the story, then recurs as the opera progresses, adding further layers of meaning.


Literally, "little book." A publication with all the words in an opera.

Maestro (MY-strow)

Literally, "master." A form of address or title for the conductor of the orchestra (usually ensconced during an opera performance in the pit, the area underneath the stage that juts out toward the first row).


Female singer with a medium-to-low voice range.

Opera Buffa

Literally, "comic opera," opera buffa draws its comic characters from everyday life.

Recitative (reh-chi-tah-TEEV)

A musical declaration, half-spoken, half-sung, usually with little accompaniment.


Female singer with the highest voice range. The most famous soprano of the twentieth century is the late Maria Callas.


A "spear carrier" or non-singing extra; often peasants, servants, soldiers, or crowds of unidentified people who play backround roles.


Male singer with a high range. Currently the most famous, known collectively as "The Three Tenors," are José Carreras, Plácido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti.

Trouser (or Pants) Role

Male character sung by a woman, often a mezzo-soprano.

Verismo (veh-REES-mow)

Romantic realism. Blood-and-guts opera, imbued with earthy, gritty situations and characters, that became popular after 1890.

Zeffirelli, Franco

Italian film director noted for his opulent, often over-the-top opera productions who, along with Ingmar Bergman, made the transition to directing opera both on stage and screen.

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Photo Credit

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, 1989 © Gary Smith