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re: The difference between opera and musical theatre

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lesmisforever
Leading Actor
joined:7/2/05
Isn't Jesus Christ Superstar also a rock opera?

Question: THE GONDOLIERS. Opera or musical?
"I have a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell!"
Updated On: 3/17/07 at 12:52 AM
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MargoChanning
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joined:4/5/04
Stephen Sondheim has often said that the only difference between musical theatre and opera is the building it is performed in. He thinks of himself as a musical theatre composer, but when opera houses choose to produce SWEENEY or A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC or CANDIDE, they become operas -- in part due to differences in casting (ie casting opera singers), but mainly due to the expectations of the audience (ie an "opera crowd" is going to have a set of expectations and reactions to a performance that are slightly different from a musical theatre one and will appreciate and evalaute various aspects of the performance differently). Similarly, when LA BOHEME, PORGY & BESS and Menotti's THE MEDIUM & THE TELEPHONE were done on Broadway, audiences experienced them and evaluated them as if they were musical theatre pieces (and I suppose that CONTACT was looked upon as a piece of musical theatre when it played at The Beaumont -- certainly the Tonys thought so -- and not as modern dance ballet of the sort you might see at the Joyce on any given evening).

While Sondheim's definition might be seen as simplistic to some, it frankly makes about as much sense as most of these other rather inadequate (and contradictory and incomplete) defintions which attempt to distinguish these overlapping genres from one another.
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misschung
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I think that the major difference is that Musical Theater productions have characters that are full of hope and optimism, wheras characters in an Opera are often in anguish and dispair.

But what about Dialogues of the Carmelites? :o)
No, seriously though - I mean, "Papageno and Papagena?"
There are funny operas. Not to mention the famous Don Giovanni "catalogue" and the many other instances of below the belt humor from Mozart's other operas.

I think that the major difference, leaving the productions and venues behind it - is really the audience. I mean some people love opera because they like the stories of the operas, they love the foreign languages, and some people like musical theater because they hear a catchy tune from a show and go to see a production of it. I mean I know people who have worked in opera for years who cant STAND musical theater just because its a slightly different style of singing and production - and by that I don't mean the singing technique but just that its a little more flashy. And conversely, I know huge theater fans who don't like the opera - some of them say that the opera community can be a little bit exclusive and pretentious. Obviously, that happens with theater too, but I'm just using it as an example of the gap between their audiences.
The morning star always gets wonderful bright the minute before it has to go --doesn't it?
Updated On: 3/17/07 at 12:55 AM
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wickedrentq
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joined:11/6/04
Heh, I wish I knew at the time of the discussion that Sondheim had said that; I'm often comparing some operas in class to parts of Sondheim musicals.

It seems when it comes down to it then, my teacher is right. (Place it is in the CD store/building it's performed in=same difference).

But thank you to those of you explaining the conductor vs. the director, that's something I find very interesting.

I actually went to my first ever opera tonight--La Traviata at the Met. What a different, wonderful experience! I couldn't believe that the chandeliers went up (is that actually why they do that in Phantom? B/c that would be a funny coincedence...), how the actors bowed between the acts, how the conductor got to bow with the cast on the stage (awesome!), the focus and reception the orchestra got, etc.

Maybe when it comes down to it, it's ultimately the production that decides whether a piece is a musical or opera, since that seems to be some of the differences--the fact that opera singers aren't miked and the larger orchestra, etc.

Please continue this discussion, it's quite fascinating.

(This isn't why I posted this) but for my final paper, I get to write about Bernstein's score for West Side Story (yaay), considering it to be an operatic score, but when I thought about it, I may just write about the score in general, since there may not be that much in a score that makes it operatic and not musical. Granted, there are certain aspects like motifs that were developed in opera that I can pinpoint, but still...

It's all very interesting. They're really not that different, but they can be treated as such different entities.
"If there was a Mount Rushmore for Broadway scores, "West Side Story" would be front and center. It snaps, it crackles it pops! It surges with a roar, its energy and sheer life undiminished by the years" - NYPost reviewer Elisabeth Vincentelli
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caitlinette
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joined:1/23/07
However, one can usually tell whether one is listening to an opera or a musical due to the style of the music and the way it is sung.

Exactly! Musical theater and opera have very different sounds. For example, as far as I know, opera singers don't belt.
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misschung
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joined:2/18/07
wickedrentq - congrats on your first opera!
How do you feel about them bowing in between acts? It always bothers me - I feel like it breaks the suspension of disbelief, but thats just my personal opinion.

As for belting - opera singers do not belt, at least in the classic sense of the word. The term belting comes out of musical theater. But opera singers do have to sing over really big orchestras over a long period of time, and sing at the maximum ends of their vocal range quite frequently.

The morning star always gets wonderful bright the minute before it has to go --doesn't it?
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wickedrentq
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joined:11/6/04
I didn't have a particular strong feeling either way about them bowing in between the acts for the most part. Looking back, I suppose I see your point--not so much because it takes away from suspension of belief, which intermissions do to an extent anyway, but because it gets tiring, how many times do we have to clap for them?

However, I was glad that we were able to clap for Violetta at the end of act 1, after that amazing number.
"If there was a Mount Rushmore for Broadway scores, "West Side Story" would be front and center. It snaps, it crackles it pops! It surges with a roar, its energy and sheer life undiminished by the years" - NYPost reviewer Elisabeth Vincentelli
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mallardo
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No difference between Carousel and Turandot??? Where to begin...

Incidentally, operas that include dialogue - Carmen, the prime example although it is often done with sung recitatives not composed by Bizet - are a sub-category. Opera Comique in French. Singspiel in German. Dialogue with music behind to heighten it is "melodrama" the original meaning of the term.
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SweMozArt
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joined:7/31/06
The music and the way the actors sing. That's what a child would say and I think I agree.
Updated On: 3/17/07 at 08:10 AM
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SeanMartin
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>> No difference between Carousel and Turandot??? Where to begin...

Then please do. Hammerstein himself said he looked to composers like Puccini and Verdi for inspiration (at least he admits it, unlike ALW).

>> Question: THE GONDOLIERS. Opera or musical?

The purists would say neither, that works such as G&S are operettas. But Broadway ran wild with those (and still does, actually): KISMET, for example. DESERT SONG. STUDENT PRINCE. SHOWBOAT is considered an operetta by some, and one could easily make a case for NIGHT MUSIC as one -- and not because of the fact that it takes place in Europe around the turn of the last century.

And since we're discussing this, remember that some operas actually made their debuts on Broadway: PORGY AND BESS and THE MEDIUM.
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vmlinnie
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I would never have considered Porgy and Bess to be an Opera anyway. It's an Operetta, which is closer to Musicals than Opera.

Further to my previous answers, the staging of an Opera and a Musical are very different. Also, Operas are mostly out of copyright (though the same can be said for G&S), therefore they can be performed much more widely. Musicals are almost always under licensing laws, you have to pay companies a percentage of your ticket sales, etc, and can't run a show if it's running on Broadway or the West End.
The rain we knew is a thing of the past -
deep-delving, dark, deliberate you would say
browsing on spire and bogland; but today
our sky-blue slates are steaming in the sun,
our yachts tinkling and dancing in the bay
like racehorses. We contemplate at last
shining windows, a future forbidden to no one.


Derek Mahon

"Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets."

Arthur Miller
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wickedrentq
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"an opera doesn't rely on audience members being able to understand the text. Due to the very legitimate and resonant singing employed by opera singers, consonants are often indistinguishable, but it doesn't really effect a viewer's comprehension of the story"

Just something from earlier I wanted to respond to. Granted, that may be the case now, but it's amusing because as I learned in class, that wasn't at all the intention of the creators of opera in the 1600's. In fact, it was the opposite. An important motto to the earliest opera composers was "Prima la parole, poi la musica"--first the words, than the musical. They felt it was very important for the audience to understand the words. They didn't have too much "melisma"--multiple notes per syllable.

Just an interesting contrast between what opera became known for (not needing to understand the words) and its original intentions.
"If there was a Mount Rushmore for Broadway scores, "West Side Story" would be front and center. It snaps, it crackles it pops! It surges with a roar, its energy and sheer life undiminished by the years" - NYPost reviewer Elisabeth Vincentelli
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Sondheim said that whether it's an opera or a musical depends on where it's performed.

Concerning FYE, I wasn't aware that they were particularly good about stocking musicals OR operas. The clerks in those stores probably don't even know what either of them are
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BrodyFosse123
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joined:2/27/06
Difference?

I love musical theatre but HATE (and I strongly emphasize HATE) opera!

Difference? The singing style -- simply cannot tolerate 'opera-style' singing. That long loud boisterous singing style. Musical theatre is more standard 'realistic' singing.

Can NOT sit thru: Placido Domingo, Il Divo, most of Josh Groban, Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli -- those voices grate me. Ugh!

Oh, and whatever Audra McDonald is trying to do vocally also grates me. That nasally conjested thing of hers. Oy!



YES!:


NO!:


So what does that make you, Brody? A zero-trick pony? - Wanna Be A Foster .........................The only power brody wields is in his own mind, joe. But it's amusing to watch him pretend nonetheless. - tazber
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AC126748
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Honey, if your idea of opera is Il Divo and Josh Groban, you need to expand your horizons! Go buy a Joan Sutherland box set.
"You travel alone because other people are only there to remind you how much that hook hurts that we all bit down on. Wait for that one day we can bite free and get back out there in space where we belong, sail back over water, over skies, into space, the hook finally out of our mouths and we wander back out there in space spawning to other planets never to return hurrah to earth and we'll look back and can't even see these lives here anymore. Only the taste of blood to remind us we ever existed. The earth is small. We're gone. We're dead. We're safe." -John Guare, Landscape of the Body
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vmlinnie
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joined:6/19/06
Another difference; I love Musical Theatre. Opera, not so much.

And, I (try to) write Musical theatre. Opera, couldn't for the life of me.
The rain we knew is a thing of the past -
deep-delving, dark, deliberate you would say
browsing on spire and bogland; but today
our sky-blue slates are steaming in the sun,
our yachts tinkling and dancing in the bay
like racehorses. We contemplate at last
shining windows, a future forbidden to no one.


Derek Mahon

"Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets."

Arthur Miller
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BrodyFosse123
Broadway Legend
joined:2/27/06
If you re-read my post -- I was referring to the 'opera' singing style, which Il Divo and Josh Groban both emulate. I was by no means calling them 'opera'.

And yes...though I'm quite familiar with Joan Sutherland, I'm also quite keen on keeping my distance from all of her recordings. Again...'opera' style singing in not my bag.

Capice?

I do have Ann-Margret's and Lesley Gore's Bear Family box sets from Germany, so I'm contradicting myself, huh?



So what does that make you, Brody? A zero-trick pony? - Wanna Be A Foster .........................The only power brody wields is in his own mind, joe. But it's amusing to watch him pretend nonetheless. - tazber
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AC126748
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Personal preference, I guess. Personally, I find Groban's style leans more towards MT than opera.

I don't think that the difference between opera is as clear-cut as others have said here. Opera is all about the music; the story is really secondary (and often hard to follow, even if you know what's going on) and the lyrics are usually nonsensical. Musical theatre is all about story. You need to know what's going on to care about the characters and what they are singing in musical theatre. Watching WEST SIDE STORY, you are aware that Tony and Maria's love is forbidden and that the Jets and Sharks are enemies. Try following the plot of SIMON BOCCANEGRA...

However, I think it's safe to say that without opera, musical theatre as we know it today would not exist.
"You travel alone because other people are only there to remind you how much that hook hurts that we all bit down on. Wait for that one day we can bite free and get back out there in space where we belong, sail back over water, over skies, into space, the hook finally out of our mouths and we wander back out there in space spawning to other planets never to return hurrah to earth and we'll look back and can't even see these lives here anymore. Only the taste of blood to remind us we ever existed. The earth is small. We're gone. We're dead. We're safe." -John Guare, Landscape of the Body
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misschung
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I don't know if I agree that the musical theater is primarily about the story and opera is primarily about the music - then why have so many well known stories been the basis of opera?
The morning star always gets wonderful bright the minute before it has to go --doesn't it?
Fenchurch
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joined:11/16/06
"Opera is all about the music; the story is really secondary (and often hard to follow, even if you know what's going on) and the lyrics are usually nonsensical."

This statement is patently ridiculous.

So many misconceptions. Many people find the stories of operas hard to understand because they are often in a different language and the problems that they deal with are less mundane than in musical theater (although this is not always the case, of course), but operas usually deal with IDEAS rather than simply PEOPLE and PROBLEMS.
"Fenchurch is correct, as usual." -Keen on Kean
"Fenchurch is correct, as usual." - muscle23ftl
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wickedrentq
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Broadwayfosse, how do you feel about musicals that feature opera-like singing, like Candide or Light in the Piazza? Just curious.

AC, it's funny that you used WSS as your example. Way before I even became familiar with opera, I decided one of the most amazing things about WSS is that the score expresses so much, combined with what the dance expresses, that the show really doesn't need words. I have to disagree, I feel like if you saw the prologue, which has no words, and then the cha-cha, saw Maria and Tony on the balcony...you would know the basic story. Sure words help with the details, but I think it's a testament to Bernstein's score that the music tells the story for that show perhaps better than the words.
"If there was a Mount Rushmore for Broadway scores, "West Side Story" would be front and center. It snaps, it crackles it pops! It surges with a roar, its energy and sheer life undiminished by the years" - NYPost reviewer Elisabeth Vincentelli
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AC126748
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Well, I've studied opera for almost a decade and am familiar with most of the operas in the Western canon and I wholeheartedly stand by my statement. Most operas ARE about the music primarily. Lyrics don't matter as much. Pick a well-known aria, read the English translation of it, and get back to me. Besides, even if an opera is written in your native tongue or a language you understand, it's hard to tell what the singers are singing because of how high/low they are singing. Modern operas and operas written specifically in English have changed this some, but I would still say that opera is more concerned with telling its stories through music than through a formal sequence of events, like we're used to in musicals.

ETA: WRQ, my dancer friends often make an argument that WSS is as much of a dance piece as it is a musical. Hard to categorize!
"You travel alone because other people are only there to remind you how much that hook hurts that we all bit down on. Wait for that one day we can bite free and get back out there in space where we belong, sail back over water, over skies, into space, the hook finally out of our mouths and we wander back out there in space spawning to other planets never to return hurrah to earth and we'll look back and can't even see these lives here anymore. Only the taste of blood to remind us we ever existed. The earth is small. We're gone. We're dead. We're safe." -John Guare, Landscape of the Body
Updated On: 3/17/07 at 02:01 PM
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wickedrentq
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And some people may argue that WSS is really more of an opera. It's so amazing, it transcends all genres!
"If there was a Mount Rushmore for Broadway scores, "West Side Story" would be front and center. It snaps, it crackles it pops! It surges with a roar, its energy and sheer life undiminished by the years" - NYPost reviewer Elisabeth Vincentelli
Fenchurch
Broadway Legend
joined:11/16/06
AC, reading an English translation of an opera or even an aria doesn't give anyone a fair representation of what is being said in actuality.

For a person who claims to have studied opera for a long time, Im surprised that you haven't read and understood Lorenzo da ponte's incredible librettos for three of Mozart's famous operas, Figaro, Cosi and Giovannni. Both Mozart and Da ponte are very concerned with what is being said as well as what is being sung and played by the orchestra.

I agree with the statement made by the person who said that that WSS almost doesn't need lyrics. Bernstein packs meaning into the music, something most musical theater composers don't do.
"Fenchurch is correct, as usual." -Keen on Kean
"Fenchurch is correct, as usual." - muscle23ftl
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AC126748
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For the record, I have read the librettos to Cosi and Giovanni (never Figaro, though), and I can agree with you there that they juxtapose story and music very well. However, I've also read many a libretto where arias seem to come out of nowhere and are there just because they are great showpieces (the famous "Son vergin vezzosa" from I PURITANI is a good example of this). There really is no hard and fast rule, it would seem. The one thing that opera and musical theatre do have in common is that everyone has their own opinions about them, and they all think they're right.
"You travel alone because other people are only there to remind you how much that hook hurts that we all bit down on. Wait for that one day we can bite free and get back out there in space where we belong, sail back over water, over skies, into space, the hook finally out of our mouths and we wander back out there in space spawning to other planets never to return hurrah to earth and we'll look back and can't even see these lives here anymore. Only the taste of blood to remind us we ever existed. The earth is small. We're gone. We're dead. We're safe." -John Guare, Landscape of the Body
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misschung
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I agree that it's hard to use the English translations of arias as an argument for their lyrics being secondary to their music. I know that some arias are definetly showcases for vocal talent but not all of them.
The morning star always gets wonderful bright the minute before it has to go --doesn't it?

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