Learn About The Opera
Piedmont Opera provides opera education programs for students, educators, and adults.
Piedmont Opera provides programs for K-12 students and educators. Please below are opportunities to connect opera education to your curriculu. Please call the office for more infromation.
- Student Night at the Opera
- Opera In the Schools.
- Free Pre-Opera talks.
- Girl Scouts Night at the Opera
- Student and Teacher Rush.
- Free pre-opera talks.
- La Lunch: The Dish on Opera
- Meet at the Met Luncheons.
- The volunteer arm of Piedmont Opera, the OPERAtors.
- Opera travel opportunities!
Each year, Piedmont Opera and the A.J. Opera Institute travel to schools across North Carolina to give students a taste of opera while teaching important moral lessons. The opera is performed by graduate level students at the A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Students are working on professional degrees in opera and many of them have performed with professional opera companies throughout the United States. The cost of this performance is $150 per performance. Contact Piedmont Opera to schedule this event at your school.
Opera is the plural of the Latin word opus, meaning, “work” (each piece written by a composer is called an opus). Opera is often defined as a play in which the words are sung rather than spoken, but this definition is too simplistic. A better definition is drama through music. The music is a partner; it does not merely accompany the drama, it contributes to it. Time stands still at times for the vocal sections in which the characters express their emotions. While opera combines music, plot and the spectacle provided by the sets, costumes and staging, the result is much more than the sum of the parts. It is truly an audio-visual art form.
Although opera as we know it started during the Italian Renaissance, its roots go back to Greek drama. We don’t know what it sounded like, but the ancient Greeks never thought of separating the poetry of their drama from music. The Greek plays were accompanied by strings or pipes and the words were sung or chanted. Dance was also part of the drama. The early church gave structure to chants and the accompanying music, supplying scales and notation. At first there were only single-line melodies, but later these were woven together to form polyphony (several different lines of music played or sung at one time) and thus, harmonies. By the end of the fifteenth-century, it was the custom in Italy to perform short musical dramas during intermissions of other plays. Small orchestras accompanied these intermezzi.
Court Masques, or elaborate dramas based on mythology or fables, became a very popular form of entertainment in the royal courts of Europe from the early sixteenth through seventeenth centuries. The stories were played out in pantomime to a background of orchestrated music, and the players were court members who spent lavish amounts of time and money on their costumes. Masques were intended to honor the head of the court where they were produced, and they were used to show the wealth and political power of the royal they honored. At this time, there was no real separation, as we know it, between theatre and opera, or between opera and ballet. These divisions started to become more obvious as musical composition developed.
Jacopo Peri (1561-1633) is credited for the first opera, Dafne, based on the Greek myth. Though famous throughout Europe at the time, it has since been lost. Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) is the earliest composer whose works are still performed. He blended the music and the poetry of the libretto to create a multi-faceted theatrical form. Such early operas were usually based on history or mythology. This kind of opera is called opera seria, in contrast to opera buffa, or comic opera, which would develop later. During this period, the words were most important, with the small orchestras providing a simple accompaniment. Separate musical lines were not written for the instrumentalists. Instead, they played the singers’ lines; this meant that there was also no need for a conductor as we know of them now. Orchestras of the day usually functioned much the way current jazz ensembles often do; they looked to one player, often the keyboardist, to prompt them while playing.
Mozart (1756-1791) was one of the first composers to write not just for, but about the nobility and their servants. A great example of this type of work is The Marriage of Figaro. In the early nineteenth century, with the development of more complex orchestrations and the addition of more flexible woodwind and brass instruments, conductors became necessary to coordinate and mold the sound and tone of the whole.
By the end of the nineteenth century, opera was telling us stories on the steamier side of life among the lower classes, and the singing became more conversational. This type of opera is identified as verismo, or real. Puccini (1858-1924), who wrote his works during this time, gave us such important works as La Bohème, Madama Butterfly and Turandot. Opera is still being written today, and new works about historical and colorful figures are being performed throughout the world. Some of the newest works tell the stories of Harvey Milk, Malcom X and Jacqueline Kennedy.
Opera Basics text courtesy of San Diego Opera and Elizabeth Otten.
Myth #1 – I won’t understand it.
The days of attending opera and not understanding what’s being sung are over. Thanks to the invention of supertitles in the mid-1980s, you no longer need to be fluent in a foreign language to understand the opera. Supertitles or surtitles are English translations of what is being sung projected above the stage, and are always featured at all San Francisco Opera productions.
Myth #2 – I have to dress up.
Many years ago opera was just for the elite class and royalty, and thus patrons felt it necessary to dress to the nines when attending opera. Nowadays, opera is open to everyone and there is no dress code. People come to the opera dressed in everything from jeans to evening gowns, so please feel free to attend the opera in whatever clothes you feel comfortable.
Myth #3 – All opera singers are fat, screaming ladies in horned helmets.
“It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings” is a phrase typically associated with opera, and the image of a fat woman in a horned helmet screaming away in a foreign language is the great stereotype for opera around the world. That image grew out of some Wagnerian operas and is really not seen much anymore (even in productions of Wagner’s operas today!). Today’s trend for opera singers in America and throughout the world is for singers to be believable in their roles – in size, stature, voice and dress.
Myth #4 – Opera is expensive.
Actually opera tickets are comparable to the prices of other live entertainment, and in some cases cost less than a major league sporting event (San Francisco Giants tickets can cost more than $100 for one seat!). Single tickets to San Francisco Opera start as low as $10 and we provide a discounts for students and other groups, and offer standing room only tickets the day of the show for only $10. These and many other special offers make opera more affordable than ever before.
Myth #5 – Opera isn’t for young people.
Opera is one of the fastest growing of the performing arts with more than 20 million people attending annually. Not only are audiences growing, but they’re growing younger too! In fact, one of the fastest growing audiences at the opera is Generation X, whose attendance at opera grew by more than 18% in recent years.
Myth #6 – Opera is boring.
Opera is actually a great party – a visual, aural, emotional spectacle that electrifies all the senses. We like to call it the ‘ultimate multi-media art form.’ In our very visually oriented society today, we look for and even expect entertainment that dazzles us from all around. Opera, with its spectacular sets and costumes, glorious voices, and stories that tear at our heartstrings, does exactly that, and there is something in it for everyone.
Opera Myths courtesy of Atlanta Opera
New to Opera?
Can I afford to attend an opera?
Absolutely. Single tickets are less than $20 in the Balcony—seats that offer some of the best sound quality in the house. Special day-of pricing for students may also be available through Rush Tickets (link). Or, bring a group (link) of 10 or more and enjoy great savings for groups. For more information call 336.725.7101.
What should I wear?
Dress in whatever it is that makes you feel comfortable and at your best. A night at the opera is a fun event. It offers a wonderful opportunity to dress to the nines if you like. Coming after work? Your business attire is perfect. Can’t part with that pair of old jeans? Keep them on. There is no dress code at Piedmont Opera. While people tend to dress up more for Opening Nights, the bottom line is: relax, no tiaras required, just enjoy.
What is performance etiquette?
The following are guidelines for appropriate behavior at an opera performance.
- As a courtesy to artists and patrons, latecomers will not be seated until the first intermission.
- Please switch off all electronic devices before the performance begins.
- No cameras or recording equipment are permitted in the Opera House.
- As a courtesy to those who may have fragrance allergies, please avoid wearing heavy perfume or cologne.
- No babes in arms. Children of any age attending a performance must have a ticket.
- No food or drink is allowed in the auditorium except bottled water.
Provided by the San Francisco Opera
The Tales of Hoffman
The Bartered Bride
La boheme & Amahl and the Night Visitors
Carmen, Amahl and the Night Visitors & The Barber of Seville
La traviata & Don Pasquale
Die Fledermaus & The Abduction from the Seraglio
Rigoletto & The Mikado
Lucia di Lammermoor & The Marriage of Figaro
Romeo et Juliette & Falstaff
La Cenerentola & Madama Butterfly
Faust & The Italian Girl in Algiers
The Magic Flute & Daughter of the Regiment
La boheme & Cosi fan tutte
Tosca & The Marriage of Figaro
Otello & The Abduction from the Seraglio
Il Trovatore & Don Giovanni
Cavalleria Rusticana/I Pagliacci & The Elixir of Love
La traviata & The Merry Widow
La boheme & The Tales of Hoffman
Manon & The Pirates of Penzance
Madama Butterfly & Il barbiere di Siviglia
Rigoletto & The Mikado
Tosca & Porgy & Bess
Aida (in Concert) & The Magic Flute
Un Ballo in Maschera & La Cenerentola
La boheme, Amahl and the Night Visitors & Cosi fan tutte
La traviata, Amahl and the Night Visitors & Die Fledermaus
The Light in the Piazza, Amahl and the Night Visitors & The Marriage of Figaro
Hansel and Gretel, Love Songs and Arias & Turandot
Il Trovatore, Love Scenes & H.M.S. Pinafore
Don Giovanni, Love Songs and Arias & The Crucible
Carmen & The Barber of Seville
The Flying Dutchman & Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Madama Butterfly and The Magic Flute
Rigoletto and A Little Night Music
Tosca and The Italian Girl in Algiers
Silent Night and The Pirates of Penzance
La boheme and The Elixir of Love
Mary, Queen of Scots and The King and I