Music from the Opera
Music from the Opera!
As pianists, it is important to know all types of music, even those types of music that are usually meant for singers and orchestras to perform. In fact, some of the most popular classical music of all time comes from operas, and pianist often play arrangements of this music!
What is an opera?
An opera is basically a story told on stage using music, singing, and drama. It is a lot like a play or like musical theatre, except that the stars of the show are almost always singing and rarely do people talk!
This month we'll get familiar with some of opera's greatest hits and the composers who wrote them!
Most operas start with an "Overture". This is an introduction to the story, and most overtures just feature an orchestra (with no singing). Here is part of one of the most famous opera overtures of all time, the overture to the opera "William Tell" by the Italian composer Giochino Rossini. Rossini wrote this music in 1829... almost 200 years ago! Have you heard this music on TV or in movies before?
Here's another famous overture: this one composed by the important American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. In this performance of his overture to "Candide" you can tell how popular this music from the opera is! This video features a performance in the gardens of the famous royal palace in Vienna, Austria. The music is by an American composer who lived in New York City, the orchestra is Austrian, and the conductor is Venezuelan! Can you find New York City, Austria, and Venezuela on a map?
In opera, the "songs" are called arias. These are usually the most famous parts of an opera. We'll listen to a couple famous arias this month!
Up first is a famous moment from one of opera's most popular shows! "Carmen" is an opera set in Spain, composed by Georges Bizet, who was French. In his day, it was very popular to have Spain or Turkey be the setting for stories; it was hard for the average person to travel, so the operas helped them experience the world!
This is part of the "Toreador" (Bull-fighter) aria from Carmen. Were you expecting to see a live horse on stage!?
What happens when the Evil Queen in a story gets to sing an aria? We find out in opera "The Magic Flute" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart! What makes the queen so scary in this video? Is it the way she looks? Acts? Sings? Opera is so magical because of the way it combines all of these things!
(Don't worry, the Evil Queen is defeated at the end of the story!)
Sometimes in an opera's story more than one character sings at once. When two musicians perform together it is called a duet, and quite often duets in opera have to do with characters who have fallen in love. This duet is found in George Gershwin's opera "Porgy and Bess", one of the best operas to ever be composed in the USA!
This opera was specifically written to feature an entire cast of Black artists, something that was quite unusual when it was first performed in 1935!
Did you know, the famous song "Summertime" is also from the opera "Porgy and Bess"?!
Some arias from operas are so famous that they are instantly recognizable, and some opera singers become so famous for singing a particular aria that their version of the music becomes the standard version. The great opera star Luciano Pavarotti made this aria popular to audiences outside of the opera hall.
"Nessun Dorma" is the climax of Giacomo Puccini's opera "Turandot". Puccini's opera's are some of the most popular even written, and they get performed year after year all around the world. (One of his operas, "La Boheme", is being performed in Seattle this month!) The end of this piece features the word "Vincerò", which means "I will win!" in Italian. Does Pavarotti make you believe that he will win?
Thanks for learning about the Opera!
Considering seeing an opera in real life sometime!