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Glossary of Terms


A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z #

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added numbers
songs or arias by other composers inserted into operas by singers wishing to display their vocal abilities and not worried about disturbing the flow of the opera
 
L'Africaine:
opera in five acts by Meyerbeer; first performed in Paris in 1865; set in Portugal in the first years of the Inquisition.

AÔda :
opera in four acts by Verdi; first performed in Cairo, Egypt in 1871; written to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal.

Andrea ChÈnier :
opera in four acts by Giordano; first performed 1896; story of a brilliant French aristocrat who died at the guillotine.

antefatto
Italian for "antecedent fact". An introduction, usually written in a libretto but sometimes sung at the beginning of an opera, giving information about events preceding the opera. Sometimes resembles a prologue before the main action of a play begins.
 
Ariadne auf Naxos :
opera in prologue and one act by Richard Strauss; combines elements of opera seria and opera buffa; first performed in 1912.
arioso
section of recitative, sung with more expression than usual, more in aria style
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ballo in maschera, Un :
an opera in three acts by Verdi; first performed in 1859; deals with the assassination of the king of
Sweden.

Bastien und Bastienne :
light opera in one act by Mozart; first performed in 1768; story deals with a shepherdess in love with a
shepherd.

Bellini, Vincenzo:
(1801-1835); Italian composer of bel canto opera; his most famous works are Norma (1831) and I Puritani
(1835).

Berlioz, Hector:
(1803-69); one of the great French composers of the19th century; composer of Les Troyens (1863), in some ways
a counterpart to Wagner's Ring.

Bizet, George:
(1838-75); French composer of Carmen and The Pearl Fishers.

BohËme, La :
opera in four acts by Puccini; first performed in 1896; deals with jealousy and love among poor young artists in Paris.

BoÔto, Arrigo:
(1842-1918); Verdi's librettist for Otello and Falstaff; composer of the opera Mefistofele (1868).

Boris Godunov :
Opera in prologue and four acts by Mussorgsky with a libretto based on Pushkin's play about the torments of Boris
Godunov; first performed 1874.

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Cadenza
From Italian for cadence or final flourish. Originally, elaborate improvisation by singers in certain arias, becoming progressively more brilliant. This became increasingly common practice, and composers who feared their singers might go too far would, for safety's sake, write their own cadenzas.

Capriccio :
Opera in one act by Richard Strauss; first performed in 1942; deals with the question of whether music or poetry is more
important in opera.

Cavalleria rusticana:
Opera in one act by Mascagni; first performed in 1890; one of the most successful examples of verismo
opera; shows stark violence and passion.

Cenerentola, La :
opera in two acts by Rossini; first performed in 1817; story of Cinderella

Charpentier, Gustave:
(1860-1956) French composer of Louise (1900).

coloratura
brilliant ornamentation of the vocal line, light, agile, sparkling

contes d'Hoffmann, Les:
opera in prologue and three acts by Offenbach; first performed in 1881; deals with the creations of the
poet Hoffmann.

coq d'or, Le:
fantasy opera in three acts by Rimsky-Korsakov; first performed in 1909.

CosÏ fan tutte:
opera in two acts by Mozart with libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte; first performed in 1790; a comedy dealing with
fidelity in love.

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Da Ponte, Lorenzo:
Mozart's librettist for The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni spent the last years of his life in the U.S.
where he taught Italian at Columbia.

Debussy, Claude:
(1862-1918); most famous of the French impressionist composers; composed only one opera, PellÈas et
MÈlisande (1902), based on a play by the Symbolist poet Maeterlinck.

Delibes, LÈo:
(1836-91); French composer of the opera Lakme (1883) and the ballets Sylvia and Coppelia.

Dido and Aeneas :
opera in three acts by Henry Purcell; based on Book IV of Virgil's Aeneid; first performed in 1689; first
important English opera.

Don Giovanni :
opera in two acts by Mozart; libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte; first performed in 1787; based on the legend of Don
Juan.

Donizetti, Gaetano:
(1797-1848); Italian composer of bel canto opera; best know for Lucia di Lammermoor.

L'elisir d'amore :
opera in two acts by Donizetti; first performed in 1832; comic opera set in an Italian village.

Die Entf¸hrung aus dem Serail :
singspiel in three acts by Mozart; first performed in 1782; set in a Turkish palace.

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encore
franch for "again". Command used by English speaking audiences calling for repeat of a popular or well-sung aria.

entr'acte
small piece of purely orchestral music played either between scenes with the curtain lowered for a scene change, or between acts

Eugene Onegin:
opera in three acts by Tchaikovsky; story based on a play by Pushkin; first performed in 1879.

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favola d'Orfeo, La:
opera in prologue and five acts by Monteverdi; story based on the Orpheus legend; first performed in 1607.

Fidelio:
rescue opera by Beethoven; first performed in 1805; deals with a wife's attempt to rescue of her husband who is a political
prisoner.

Fledermaus, Die:
operetta in three acts by Johann Strauss; first performed in 1874; frivolous plot; showcases waltzes.

fliegende Hollander, Der:
opera in three acts by Wagner; first performed in 1843; deals with the ghost of a sea captain condemned
to wander until he can find the love of a pure woman.

forza del destino, La :
opera in four acts by Verdi; first performed in 1862 in St. Petersburg; deals with a Spanish nobleman and
forbidden love.

Freisch¸tz, Der:
opera in three acts by Carl Maria von Weber; first performed in 1821; prototype for German Romantic opera.

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Gianni Schicchi:
most popular of the three one-act operas that make up Puccini's Il Trittico, the others being Il tabarro and Suor
Angelica; first performed in 1918; deals with a humorous swindler in Florence in 1299.

Gioconda, La:
opera in four acts by Ponchielli; first performed 1876; story by Victor Hugo; famous for "Cielo e mar", the Suicidio,
and the Dance of the Hours.

Giordano, Umberto:
(1867-1948); known primarily for one opera Andrea Chenier (1896.)

Giulio Cesare:
opera in three acts by Handel; first performed in 1724; an example of opera seria; deals with the story of Julius
Caesar and Cleopatra.

Glinka, Mikhail:
(1804-1857); father of Russian nationalist opera; composed the prototypes for the historical drama (A Life for
the Tsar) and the fantasy opera (Ruslan and Ludmila).

G–tterd”mmerung, Die:
opera in prologue and three acts by Wagner; the last of the four works in his cycle of music dramas Der
Ring des Nibelungen; in it the ring is finally returned to the Rhinemaidens and Valhalla is consumed in flames; first performed in
1876.

Gounod, Charles:
(1818-93); composer of French grand opera; his best known works are Faust and Romeo et Juliette.

GrÈtry, AndrÈ Ernest:
(1741-1813); Belgian composer who dominated French opera in the 1770s and 1780s; his best known work
is Richard Coeur-de-Lion (1784).

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HalÈvy, Fromental:
(1799-1862); composer of French grand opera; his most famous work is La Juive .

L'heure espagnole:
comic opera in one act by Maurice Ravel; first performed 1911; story of a Spanish clockmaker.

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- J -

 
Juive, La:
French grand opera in five acts by HalÈvy; first performed in 1844; deals with Jewish oppression in the 15th century.
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Leoncavallo, Ruggiero:
(1858-1919); Italian composer of verismo opera; his most famous work is Pagliacci. The subject is
derived from the characters of the commedia dell-arte.

Lohengrin :
opera in three acts by Wagner; based on a medieval legend; first performed in 1850; the story is set in 10th century
Saxony; Act III contains the famous Bridal Chorus.

Lucia di Lammermoor:
opera in three acts by Donizetti based on a story by Sir Walter Scott; set in Scotland in the 17th century;
tells the story of the tragedy resulting from a forced marriage; most famous for the Mad Scene in the last act.

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Manon :
French opera in five acts by Massenet; based on the frequently used story of Manon Lescaut, a simple girl from the country
who suffers from making bad decisions; first performed in 1884.

Manon Lescaut :
Italian opera in four acts by Puccini; first performed in 1893; uses the same story by Prevost that Massenet used
earlier in his Manon.

Mascagni, Pietro:
(1863-1945); Italian composer; remembered chiefly for his early work Cavalleria rusticana; succeeded Toscanni
as director of La Scala in 1929.

Mefistofele :
opera in prologue, four acts, and epilogue by Boito; based on the drama by Goethe; first performed in 1868.

Meistersinger von N¸rnberg, Die :
opera in three acts by Wagner; first performed in 1868; story centers around the medieval
guilds of singers; Hans Sachs is the hero.

Menotti, Gian-Carlo :
(1911- ) Italian composer who moved to America in his youth; follows in the tradition of Puccini in his
approach to melody in opera; his most famous works are The Medium, The Telephone, The Consul, and Amahl and the Night
Visitors.

Mignon :
opera in three acts by Ambroise Thomas, based on a story by Goethe; first performed in Paris in 1866; contains the famous
coloratura aria "Je suis Titania"; has received over 2000 performances at the Opera Comique since its premiere.

Monteverdi, Claudio :
(1567-1643) composer of the one of the first complete operas to survive L'Orfeo (1607). Also wrote The
Coronation of Poppea and The Return of Ulysses.

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus:
(1756-1791); composer of operas in Italian and German; is most famous works are The Marriage of
Figaro, Don Giovanni, Cosi fan tutte, The Abduction from the Seraglio, and The Magic Flute.

music drama
a favourite phrase of Wagner, who placed great store by the unity of all the arts used in opera - music, drama, painting, singing - rather than allowing opera to be merely a vehicle for vocal display

Mussorgsky, Modest:
(1835-1881); Russian nationalist composer; one of the Mighty Five; composed two historical operas Boris
Godunov and Khovanshchina.

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nozze di Figaro, Le :
opera in four acts by Mozart; libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte; based on a play by Beaumarchais dealing with
class struggle in the late 18th century; first performed in Vienna in 1786.

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Offenbach, Jacques :
(1819-80); master of French comic opera; born in Germany but worked primarily in Paris. His most famous
work is the serious opera The Tales of Hoffman.

Orfeo ed Eurydice :
Greek myth used by many composers. One of the most famous treatments was by C.W. Gluck in a work that
premiered in 1762; it was known as as a reform opera because it eliminated some of the excesses of the Baroque style. It's most
famous sections are the Dance of the Blessed Spirits and "Che faro senza Eurydice".

Otello :
opera in four acts by Verdi; libretto by Boito after Shakespeare; first performed in 1887.

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Pagliacci :
opera in two acts by Leoncavallo, first performed in 1892; one of the most famous examples of verismo opera; characters
are derived from the commedia dell'arte.

Parsifal :
festival play in three acts by Wagner; first performed at Bayreuth in 1882; the story centers around the legend of the Holy
Grail, the cup from which Jesus drank at the last supper; Wagner thought of this as more of a religous ceremony than an
entertainment.

PellÈas et MÈlisande :
opera in five acts by Debussy with the libretto in French by the Symbolist poet Maeterlinck; first performed
in Paris in 1902; contains no set arias, duets, or ensembles; the music aims to reflect the mystical quality of the play; it was the only
opera composed by Debussy.

Pergolesi, Giovanni Battista:
(1710-1736); most famous for his intermezzo La Serva Padrona; he also composed five opera serie
that were not successful.

Ponchielli, Amilcare:
(1834-1886); Italian composer who is chiefly remembered for his opera La Gioconda.

Prokofiev, Sergei:
(1891-1953); one of the most famous Russian composers of the 20th century; his operas include The Love of
Three Oranges, The Gambler, The Flaming Angel, War and Peace, and A Tale of the Real Man.

Puccini, Giacomo:
(1858-1924); one of the most famous of all opera composers; some of his works fall in the verismo style; among
his works are Manon Lescaut, La Boheme, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Girl of the Golden West, Il Trittico, and Turandot.

Puritani, I :
opera in three acts by Bellini; first performed in Paris in 1835; deals with the conflict between the Puritans and the
Cavaliers in England; contains extremely difficult vocal roles.

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Ravel, Maurice :
(1875-1937) French composer; he wrote two one-act operas L'heure Espagnole (1911) and L'enfant et les
sortileges (1925).

Das Rheingold:
the first of four music dramas by Richard Wagner in the Ring of Nibelungen cycle; it deals with the theft of the
golden ring from the Rhinemaidens.

Rigoletto :
opera in three acts by Verdi, libretto taken from Victor Hugo; first performed in 1851; story deals with the tragic life of
a hunchback in service of a dissolute nobleman.

Ring des Nibelungen, Der :
a collect of four music dramas by Wagner, written over many years and lasting over 21 hours in
performance; the separate works are Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Siegfried, and Die Gotterdammerung.

RomÈo et Juliette :
French opera in five acts by Gounod; based on Shakespeare; first performed in Paris in 1867.

Rosenkavalier, Der:
opera in three acts by Richard Strauss; first performed in 1911; reminiscent of the style of Mozart; deals with
the poignancy of love in youth and in age.

Rossini, Gioacchino:
(1792-1868); Italian composer who was a master of opera buffa; his most famous works are The Barber of
Seville, La Cenerentola, and William Tell.

Russlan and Ludmila:
opera in five acts by Glinka; first performed in St. Petersburg in in 1842; characters are taken from Russian
folklore; this opera serves as a prototype for the fantasy operas of Rimsky-Korsakov and Stravinsky.

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Saint-SaÎns, Camille:
(1835-1921); French composer who worked in almost every area of musical composition. His most famous
opera is Samson et Dalila (1877).

Salome:
opera in one act by Richard Strauss; libretto taken from a play by Oscar Wilde. first performed in Dresden in 1905; its
degeneracy caused a widespread outcry when it first appeared.

Samson et Dalila :
opera in three acts by Saint-Saens; story taken from the Book of Judges; one of the best known works in the
French repertory.

Scribe, EugËne:
(1791-1861); French dramatist and librettist; wrote libretti for Auber, Bellini, Donizetti, Lahevy, Meyerbeer,
Rossini, and Verdi.

serva padrona, La :
intermezzo or opera buffa in two acts by Pergolesi; first performed, as was the custom, as intermission pieces
between the acts of an opera seria. It contain only three roles: a bass, a soprano, and a non-singing part. It was very important in the
history of comic opera.

Siegfried :
music drama in three acts by Wagner; the third in his tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen. Story deals with the young
Siegfried and his love for Brunnhilde.

Simon Boccanegra :
opera in prologue and three acts by Verdi with libretto by Piave; first performed in Venice in 1857; story
deals with the ruler of Genoa in the 14th century; one of Verdi's lesser known works.

Strauss, Richard:
(1864-1949); German composer and conductor; equally well known for orchestral works and opera; most famous
operas include Salome, Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne afu Naxos, Die Frau ohne Schatten, and Arabella.

stretta
Italian for "squeezing". The speeding up of a passage, either aria or ensemble, to make an exciting climax, usually at the end of an act.

Suor Angelica:
one of three one-act works in Puccini's Il trittico ; its story concerns a nun who came to a convent after an unknown
tragedy in her life; first performed in New York in 1918.

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tabarro, Il:
one of three one-act works in Puccini's Il trittico; the story depicts life on a barge on the Seine; a love triangle results
in tragedy; first performed in New York in 1918.

Tannh”user:
opera in three acts by Wagner; based on a medieval German poem; first performed in Dresden in 1845; contains the
famous Pilgrim's Chorus.

Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyitch:
(1840-93); Russian composer known primarily for orchestral works; composed operas including
Eugen Onegin (1879) and The Queen of Spades (1890).

tessitura
Italian for "texture". Average range of character's voice in an opera, e.g. certain soprano roles are said to have a high tessitura

ThaÔs:
opera in three acts by Massenet; first performed in 1894; set in Egypt, deals with the conflict of sacred and profane love.

Thomas, Ambroise:
(1811-96); French opera composer; known primarily for Mignon (1866).

Tosca:
opera in three acts by Puccini; first performed in 1900; set in Rome during the Napoleonic Wars; one of the most famous of
verismo operas.

traviata, La :
opera in three acts by Verdi; libretto is by Piave after a story by the younger Alexandre Dumas usually known as
Camille; the story is about a beautiful courtesan who sacrifices everything for the one true love of her life; first performed in Venice
in 1853.

Tristan und Isolde :
opera in three acts by Wagner; first performed in Munich 1865; based on a Celtic legend; one of the most
progressive and influential operas in music history.

trovatore, Il :
opera in four acts by Verdi; first performed in Rome in 1853; one of Verdi's most popular operas; the story is set in
15th century Spain and deals with gypsies, mistaken identity, mother's love, and other staples of opera lore.

Troyens, Les :
opera in two parts and six acts by Berlioz based on Books I, II, and IV of Virgil's Aeneid; in some ways it is the
French counterpart to Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen.

Turandot :
last opera of Puccini; left unfinished at his death in 1924; first performed in 1926; deals with a Chinese princess and the
power of love.

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Verdi, Giuseppe:
(1813-1901); greatest Italian opera composer of the 19th century; works include La traviata, Rigoletto, Aida,
Otello, and many more.

vibrato
Italian for "vibrated" Method of sustaining a note in an interesting way by rising above it rapidly. The wavering of pitch can be used to intensify voice or strings.

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Wagner, Richard:
(1813-83); greatest German opera composer of the 19th century; created the idea of the music drama; works
include The Flying Dutchman, Lohengrin, The Meistersinger von Nurnberg, Tristan und Isolde, The Ring of Nibelungen and others.

Wagner tuba
Instrument developed by Wagner to lie between horns and trumpets. Usually played by horn players, there are four of them, two tenors and two basses.

Walk¸re, Die:
music drama in three acts by Wagner; first performed in Munich in 1870; it is the second of four music dramas in
Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen; the story centers around the nine daughters of Wotan and Erda, the earth goddess.

Weber, Carl Maria von:
(1786-1826); composer of Der Freischutz, the first important German Romantic opera.

Wozzeck:
opera in three acts by Alban Berg; first performed in 1925; one of the most important of all 20th century operas; deals
with the anguish and downfall of a poor soldier.

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Zauberfl–te, Die :
opera in two acts by Mozart; first performed in Vienna in 1791; the last opera of Mozart's opera; more properly
called a Singspiel because of its German text; the story is both a fairy tale and a story full of religious truths.

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Acknowledgements


Patricia Gray, Assistant Professor of Music
Rhodes College
Memphis, TN
gray@rhodes.edu
Opera Terms: A Pronunciation Guide
Opera Memphis Home Page


 

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Last updated: November 02, 1999.