Tag Archives: sa-shows-operas


Opera 101: What IS Opera, Doc? An Art Form Is Born

Warner Brothers Cartoon, What's Opera, Doc? - 1957
Warner Brothers Cartoon, What’s Opera, Doc? – 1957

What kid doesn’t remember the great Bugs Bunny? We all grew up with good ol’ Looney Tunes, and I used to love how music was used as a vehicle to set up whatever crazy story Bugs was a part of. I can still hear the words “Kill the wabbit” sung to the famous melody from the “Ride of the Valkyries” from Richard Wagner’s “Ring Cycle”. As a child, however, I had no clue that the music in this cartoon was from an actual opera. I was spellbound by the way the cartoon fused music and drama, and who can forget Bugs always dressing as the heroine, with the wig and the horns? For those of you who haven’t seen these cartoons, read no further until you have watched these clips. I promise you will not be sorry.

These two cartoons are based on two of opera’s most famous pieces: Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle and Giachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. It is amazing how deeply rooted certain operatic motifs are ingrained in our memories. While not a part of these cartoons, I am sure we have all heard the words “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro” that also come from The Barber of Seville. These cartoons are so well known that some operatic productions use carrot jokes as a nod to the beloved Bugs Bunny.  

So, what is opera, really? Opera is a difficult word to define in a larger context, as many things fall under its umbrella, but in simplest form, opera is a theatrical work told through music and singing. Often people will add “without dialogue” to this definition but that opens a door to be discussed in a later post. You may also be wondering, “Isn’t musical theater also a theatrical work told through music and singing?” Well, you are correct. There are many similarities between opera and musical theatre, and the latter would not exist without the former. There is much nuance to discuss about the differences of these two amazing art forms but that, again, will deserve its own post to really do it justice.

Opera has its origin in Europe, most specifically in Florence, Italy. In the 1500s, a group of men gathered in Florence called the Florentine Camerata. These men were poets, musicians, humanists, and intellectuals in the late Renaissance period. Their gatherings began a revival of Greek dramas and their musical experiments led to the development of “stile recitativo”. This singing style adopted the flow of normal speech and allowed for a story to be told, basically speaking on pitch. This became further developed and eventually led to the creation of opera. The first Opera was Dafne written by Jacopo Peri and produced in Florence around 1597. That is over 400 years ago! The libretto (the play, essentially) for this opera still survives, however, much of the musical score (the music) is, unfortunately, lost. The first “complete” opera score that we have dates to 1600 again by Peri and called Euridice. This first opera included dramatically sung moments, and more “half spoken” parts in the “recitativo” style developed by the Camerata.

An excerpt from the 1600 score of Euridice.

Since the writing of Dafne, countless operas have been composed by composers from many countries and in many languages, and many operas are still being written today! Popular composers you may know include: Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Gounod, Heggie, and many others.

So that bring us to the end of our first  Opera 101 post. In the future we will explore a few of the topics mentioned previously as well as addressing questions about opera as an art form and/or career. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section, if you have any!

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StageAgent Tutorials (1)

Navigating a StageAgent Show Guide

StageAgent now features over 1000 professionally-written guides, designed to help you discover more about the plays you love and discover new ones.  Here are a few things you might want to know to optimize your experience using StageAgent.


Click on Context to find out more about how the play or musical first came about, historical and dramaturgical information relevant to the production, and production history, including unique stagings or interpretations that put a unique twist on the traditional text.

SA Clips How-to Image

Click on Clips to find numerous performance clips from a range of productions (and sometimes you can even view the entire play online!)  There are even more clips of individual characters’ performances to discover when you click on individual character descriptions.

SA How-To Plot

Don’t have access to the script before an audition?  Need the context quickly for a particular scene in acting class?  There is a short synopsis of each play available on its Overview page, but if you click on Plot, you will find a detailed, scene-by-scene synopsis of the entire play.

SA Characters How-To Image

Click on the Characters tab to find a full list of all characters involved in a particular production.  Click on an individual character, and you’ll get more detailed information about the character, character clips, and also information about doublings used in other productions.

SA Songs How-To Image

To see the full song list for a musical, click on the Songs tab.  There will also be hyperlinks to songs in the show that might be particularly suitable for an audition.

SA Song Hyperlink Image

Click on any song that has a hyperlink, and you will find clips of the particular song, background on the context in which it is sung, the vocal range of the individual songs, and clips of different people performing it.



SA Related Shwo Guides Image

Do you have a favorite show?  Want to find more like it?  In the right hand column on the Overview page for your favorite play or musical, StageAgent will suggest Related Show Guides in which you might have an interest.  For example, someone who is a fan of A Little Night Music might also love Into the Woods.

SA Half-Price Ticket Image

Have you been reading up on a play and would really love to see it?  In the right hand column on the Overview page, we list opportunities for discounted tickets to local productions of the show you’re reading about or related shows, under the title Half-Price Hot Ticket Sellers.

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