Newbie Ed Page

Opera Newbies want to learn more about opera and are looking for sources of information.  However, it's kind of spread around.  I am collecting here a grouping to help get Newbies going.  My sense is that education in small bites can be both fun and helpful and better serve the schedule of busy fans.  On this page I will list some sources that provide opera information and insights in smaller bites which I call Opera Ed To Go.  Towards the bottom I list more involved sources such as articles, books or online sources.  Reader contributions of informational links are welcomed - to send, use the Contacts page.

Opera Ed To Go:

Technical aspects

What is an opera very basic; provides definitions of some common opera terms - 6 min -

Analyzing an opera: I ran across this webpage thumbing through Met Opera's extensive website.  It is a lesson plan for instructors to use in teaching their students about opera.  It is a list of topics for discussion.  I think it is a good review sheet to read over prior to attending a pre-opera talk.  What sort of things should you be thinking about? - 5 min -

How to listen to opera: A Youtube video clip from the movie, "Philadelphia"  instructs us in allowing ourselves to open to the emotional and esthetic content of the opera; blog post reading 5 min and video clip 5 min -

Difficulty of singing opera: OperaGene has a blog post on this topic called "Why Singing Opera Could Be An Olympic Event":

Voice types in opera: From a page on the Opera America website, an excellent description of the various voice types encountered in opera performances.  This site is especially good for this because an audio sample is included for each voice type - 20 min -

A trip through the vocal range with Maria Callas: A Youtube clip of short outtakes of La Diva, Maria Callas, hitting notes moving successively up the scale - 1.5 min -

The German Fach system for classifying voices: You will sometimes hear opera people refer to a singers "fach."  They are referring to a singers range, weight, and color of their voices:

Science of singing opera: The San Diego Opera webpage has a sub-page titled “Music and Science Curriculum” that discusses the biology and physics of opera.  Five lessons are offered in Biology Connections, four in Physics Connections, and two in Physical Science Connections (the second one appears to have a broken link).  Some of the topics are the anatomy of the human voice, how singers use their body to produce sound, the physics of music, and emotional responses to music.  Lessons can be perused quickly or take more time to study.

NPR Resources for Newbies:

Glossary of Opera Terms: From a page on the Opera America website, a use collection of terms used in opera discussions and their meanings - as needed -

A Quick Guide for Attending Your First Opera: This article by Rich Grizet is targeted to goers to the Virginia Opera, but the advice works for opera anywhere and is especially helpful to newbies considering attending their first opera; a few min to read.


Opera/composer insights

Composer’s toolbox, Verdi: how Verdi creates tension using music in Simon Boccanegro is found in two segments of a larger video on titled, “The science of opera with Stephan Fry and Alan Davies.”  The whole video is an interesting and sorta scientific discussion of the effect of opera on the viewer’s physiological responses.  These two segments featuring conductor Antonio Pappano can be found at time mark 20:03 and time mark 36:05; simply slide the red timeline ball to those spots – about 2 min each -

Composer's toolbox, Mozart: a PBS segment titled "How Mozart summed up the universe in three notes in G minor" in honor of Mozart's Birthday where composer Robert Kapilow explains how Mozart used three notes as the basis for creating his Symphony No. 40 - 6 min -

Musical themes and Wagner's leitmotifs:

This Youtube video presenting movie themes as lietmotif’s, somewhat misses the mark.  However, you may enjoy seeing how many movies you can recall from the movie themes, and it does provide examples of musical cues that connect musical themes with expectations, which have been used in music long before Wagner - about 7 min:

Musical themes known as leitmotifs, are short themes deliberately associated with a presence in the story to elicit our associated remembrances and feelings in a complex interplay with other musical themes.  Wagner was an innovator who employed these extensively to introduce recurrent characters, moods, and ideas.  So with Wagner, we hear something and we think, feel, or expect something. Another more insightful introduction to leitmotifs can be found in this Youtube video - about 9 min:

A Chopin lesson:

Benjamin Zander talks about how to listen to classical music with a Chopin example - about 20 min.

Five essential moments from operas for budding fans:

Kasper Holten, Director of Opera at the Royal Opera House lists scenes from five operas that he believes provide insight into why the actors must sing? - - about 5 min.


The New Penguin Opera Guide edited by Amanda Holden, 2001.  At 1168 pages, the Guide is an encyclopedia of opera composers with a fairly complete listing and discussion of their operatic works.  Amazon’s description of the Guide says, “Over 100 distinguished contributors have written on more than 800 composers and examined 1500 operas in detail.”  The listings are organized by composers' names in alphabetical order.  I find this to be a remarkably useful reference sources.

Pre-Opera Talks:

30-45 min - Pre-opera talks: Many opera venues hold pre-opera talks approximately one hour before a performance providing background and insight into the opera to be performed.  Some may even include an educational event associated with an opera, but held at a time different from the opera.  Once you have interest in a performance, carefully check the venues website or call for information on associated events.  In my experience these are really helpful and a tremendous value:  they are typically free. 

Basic Music Theory Instruction for Free:

Music Theory: this online instruction from presents instruction in basic music theory in small digestible bites.  True, the instruction is so dry it could soak up the entire Atlantic Ocean, but it is good basic stuff.  If you'd like to learn or review what those squiggly things in musical notation mean or understand some basic concept in music, this is a solid source.  Click on the link and look to the top left of the page for free content.  If you select lessons, it will take you to a listing of lessons in small bites.  Select the lesson of interest and you will go to the lesson which will have a graphic at the top and the comments below.  At the very bottom of the page click on the arrow to move the lesson forward; the text highlighted and the graphic will change.  The amount of time spent here is up to you. You can buy the lessons as an app for your smart phone or tablet - $3.

Opera Company/Organization Programs for the Public:

Many opera companies place educational resources on their websites and frequently information about operas in the common repertory and singers.

Metropolitan Opera Guild - The Met offers many programs and learning opportunities, including tours, lectures, courses, and school programs; scroll through the glitzy media show to the useful links towards the bottom -  Met Opera also offers podcasts that analyze operas at; each podcast runs about an hour to an hour and a half.

Washington National Opera - WNO works with the Kennedy Center to offer education in the arts.  Only a small number of offerings are about opera. -

Virginia Opera - The Virginia Opera has a number of outreach activities for young opera fans, including an online posting of free study guides for 50 commonly performed operas.