Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What's in a Name? Musical or Opera

What exactly makes an opera an opera? Is it just the high notes? Is it more or less like a musical?

If you're new to opera, don't be afraid to ask such questions. There are really great answers out there.

The Toledo Opera offers free public lecture series throughout its season, as well as pre-opera talks for ticket holders before each fully staged production. There also is an Opera Camp for youth and young adults, which explores everything from singing to costumes to set production, and an Opera on Wheels program that brings performances to local schools.

The New York Times published an excellent piece in 2011 examining the fine line between the musical and operatic art forms that combine scores, singing and dialogue.

Anthony Tommasini writes: "[T]hese genres are too close for comfort. The differences, though slight, are crucial. So what are they, exactly? To begin with, in no way do I see the matter as a lowbrow-highbrow debate. Opera is not by definition the more elevated form."

He continues in his critic's notebook: "Obviously both genres involve the mixing of words and music. But in the musical, words hold the upper edge. The opposite is true of opera. If you accept that difference, then many further defining aspects of each genre -- singing styles, orchestration, the role of spoken dialogue, the importance of melody, the appropriate degree of musical complexity -- all follow logically."

You may be familiar with the stage musical, perhaps just from your high school's productions or an old movie on TCM. Your opportunities for opera may not be as varied, but you do have the immeasurable luck to have quality experiences right here in Toledo.

One of the best ways to learn more about opera is to just show up! Come to a performance or guild event and ask any person why he or she is there. You may run into some knowledgeable aficionados, but you will find lots of us who are still learning and still growing to love it. We all have more in common than you may think.

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