Glossary of Opera Terms

While it’s not necessary to know opera terminology to appreciate the art form, understanding some basic vocabulary can help enrich your experience.

A capella

(Italian) Means “in the chapel” of in the style of the chapel. Choral music sung without accompaniment.

Alto

Range of voice higher than a tenor, lower than a soprano.

Aria

Lyric song for solo voice with orchestral accompaniment, generally expressing great emotion.

Baritone

Male voice that lies between bass and tenor.

Bass

Lowest male voice often associated with characters of authority or comedy.

Brava

(Italian feminine form) meaning “Well done.” Audiences say this to a female performer to express appreciation of her work.

Bravo

(Italian: masculine form) A call to show approval for a male performer at the end of a performance.

Bravi

(Italian: plural form) A call to show approval for a group of performers at the end of a performance.

Diva

Literally “goddess.” A female opera star. Often used to describe a difficult or demanding female opera star.

Librettist

Person who writes text of an opera.

Libretto

(Italian) meaning “little book.” The complete text of an opera.

Maestro

(Italian) meaning master. A title of courtesy given to conductors, composers and directors.

Opera

A form of theatre that emerged in Italy around 1600 in which the story is conveyed predominatly through singing.

Overture

Orchestral music played at the beginning of the opera. (Signals the start of the performance.)

Soprano

Highest female voice. Commonly the lead female character.

Surtitle

Translations of foreign words that are projected above the stage during the performance so the audience can interpret the opera’s meaning.

Tenor

Male voice above bartitone. Commonly the lead male character.