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date: 12 July 2020

Opera (opera) (It., from Lat. opera, plural of opus, ‘work’; Fr. opéra; Ger. Oper)(i)locked

  • Howard Mayer Brown
  •  and Bernard Williams


(It., from Lat. opera, plural of opus, ‘work’; Fr. opéra; Ger. Oper)

I. ‘Opera’. II. The origins of opera. III. The nature of opera.

Most narrowly conceived, the word ‘opera’ signifies a drama in which the actors and actresses sing throughout. There are, however, so many exceptions among the operatic works of the West – so many works popularly called operas in which some parts are spoken or mimed – that the word should be more generically defined as a drama in which the actors and actresses sing some or all of their parts. Numerous sub-genres, such as opera seria, opera buffa, tragédie en musique and the like, have grown up in the history of opera; information about these sub-genres will be found in separate entries. Some of the sub-genres mix spoken and sung drama in conventional ways. Thus, in operetta, Singspiel, opéra comique and musical comedy the dialogue is normally spoken and musical numbers interrupt the action from time to time. The history of opera is inextricably intertwined with the history of spoken drama. Moreover, since all operatic works combine music, drama and spectacle, though in varying degrees, all three principal elements should be taken into account in any comprehensive study of the genre, even though music has traditionally played the dominant role in the conception and realization of individual works....

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Music & Letters
C. Burney: A General History of Music from the Earliest Ages to the Present Period (London, 1776-89); ed. F. Mercer (London, 1935/R) [p. nos. refer to this edn]
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