New to Opera?
Stories That Sing
Opera is one of the most unique art forms. Combining voice, theatre and orchestra set against a backdrop of amazing set design, Opera evokes emotion and touches all the senses. If you’re experiencing opera for the first time, let’s break down the barriers and dispel some myths about Opera that you may not know! As well, we have a series of videos that you may enjoy watching.
“Opera” is the Italian word for ‘work’, and is a story told through music and words. An orchestra (in Calgary Opera’s case, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra), plays the music in a ‘pit’ under the stage. Singers onstage bring the story to life through acting and sing the words (known as ‘the libretto’ instead of ‘lyrics’.) What makes opera different from musical theatre is that the singers are ‘unplugged’, meaning there are no microphones, and their voices are carried through their superior trained vocal abilities and conditioning coupled with excellent acoustics.
Principals and Cast
The main characters of each story are sung by ‘principals’, who are often guest artists that are brought in because of their talent in performing that particular character. It takes an enormous amount of dedication, practice and rehearsing to form a particular character for an artist. Opera singers also tend to know more than one language, including Italian, French, German, or Russian!
The principals, as well as supporting artists, are often accompanied by the Calgary Opera Chorus. The Calgary Opera Chorus is a volunteer chorus, who devote their talent and skill to performing in all the productions, and rehearse for many evenings prior to a production. In order to be a Chorus member, you must audition for the Chorus Director and Director of Artistic Operations of the Opera company.
Voice Types and Ranges
Soprano – This is the highest female voice and is often associated with the heroine in opera such as Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly. Famous sopranos include Maria Callas, Dame Joan Sutherland, Dame Kiri Te Kanewa, Anna Netrebko, Lesley Garrett. Examples of sopranos in popular music include Celine Dion, Julie Andrews, Diana Ross, Kristen Bell, Mariah Carey.
Mezzo Soprano – The middle female voice. A darker voice than a soprano associated with a range of different roles often used to portray female characters of great complexity such as Carmen. Famous mezzo sopranos include Cecilia Bartoli, Norine Burgess, Kimberly Barber, and Judith Forst, Cecilia Bartoli. In popular music, examples of Mezzo-sopranos include Alanis Morrisette, Sarah McLachlan, k.d. Lang.
Contralto – The lowest category of female voice. Artists such as Maureen Forrester, Marie-Nicole Lemieux are contraltos. In popular music, examples of contraltos include Adele, Amy Winehouse, Annie Lennox, Lady Gaga, Diana Krall.
Tenor – A high male voice. Most often associated with the hero in opera such as Rodolfo in La bohème and Alfredo in La Traviata. Famous tenors include Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Jose Carerras, Andrea Bocelli. Examples of tenors in popular music are Paul McCartney, Freddie Mercury, Bono, Elton John, Justin Bieber.
Baritone – The middle male voice. Baritones often sing the villain or comic roles, or the friend to the lead male character. Famous baritones include Sir Thomas Allen, Gerald Finley and Simon Keenlyside. In popular music, Johnny Cash, David Bowie, Elvis Presley, Blake Shelton, Eddie Vedder are examples of Baritones.
Bass – The deepest male voice. Often associated with villains or comic roles. Bryn Terfel is a bass-baritone.
Counter Tenor – The highest male voice which is largely used in Early Music and Baroque operas. Famous Counter Tenors include James Bowman, Andreas Scholl and David Daniels. In popular music, Adam Levine, Barry Gibb, Roger Taylor are considered countertenors for their falsetto abilities.