Glossary for Opera and Lyrical Theater in general


Ι. Opera, dramatic and lyrical theater, acting and the role of the lyric protagonist.



The opera is a genre in lyrical theater, which includes dramatic stage show that has musical character. Due to the fact that opera is part of drama, it uses the characteristics of the theater i.e. acting, dancing, scenery and costumes. Etymologically the term “opera” derives from the plural form of the Latin word “opus” which means “work” indicating in this way that many artistic items such as music, theater, dance and scenography are incorporated in opera. The poetic text, in the libretto opera, is delivered at canticlelieular Masses, in other words it is sung, at least most of it. The singers who are at the same time singer and actors, we would say “Acting Singers” are accompanied by an orchestra whose size may vary. Opera is often attributed to the Greek language as melodrama i.e. drama involving melody. Thus, the dialogues among opera actors are performed in a song form, while the theatrical performance unfolds with the presence of an ensemble. As genre it is considered to be one of the greatest musical achievements of the Western civilization and it remains one of the most popular genres along with operetta and musical, genres of the lyrical theater, which owe their origin mainly to the opera.



The operetta is a genre of opera in a simpler and lighter form with a more comical character and it usually deals with subjects of the life of the bourgeoisie. The most important difference from the opera is that a big part of the libretto is delivered as prose. It was attributed to the Greek language as the term “melodramatio” (diminutive of melodrama) but it was not established. It first appeared in France in the 19th century. Jacques Offenbach is considered to be the father of the opera. The Viennese (German) operetta was created from the French operetta, in which the waltz rhythms have a prominent place. It was highlighted by Johann Strauss the youngest. The operetta flourished in Greece in the early 20th century with main representatives Theophrastus Sakellaridis and Nick Chatziapostolou.



The musical is itself a kind of theatrical performance that combines songs, dialogues (prose), acting and dance, creating a single whole from which none of the arts that includes stand out. Compared to opera, the musical focuses more on prose like operetta and dance. The protagonists must be primarily actors, then singers and then dancers or at least have excellent dancing skills, which is taken into account by the composer of the musical. The music follows in most cases the style of popular songs of the era usually free from the aesthetics imposed by the opera and operatic convention. The songs are accompanied by an ensemble (pit orchestra), which can however consist of a few musical instruments. The use of microphones and other audio aids are common in musicals, something not seen in operatic performances.


The lyric protagonist

The singers take a role in an opera depending on the extent, nature and quality of their voice. Other criteria such as the artist’s age and body type often play an important role. Choosing an artist for a specific role depends on the directing, scenography etc. needs, and even on the potential of the ensemble of the theater. High vocal and scenic skills are required from the lyric protagonists, even today to the same degree.
The specialization and categorization of lyrical voices arose largely from the evolution of drama. During the baroque and classical period, the onstage female voices were divided into soprano (soprano) and alto (deep female voice) and the male singers into tenor (tenor) and bass (deep male voice) and castrato singers as well. With the evolution of music and especially of the drama repertoire from the late period of the classical era and then, it begins a further separation and mezzo-soprano (mezzo) voices for women and baritone for men are established.
These classifications are indicative and do not have absolute power. Generally, the inclusion of a voice in a voice category depends both on internal factors e.g. timber, Intensity, volume and extent of the voice and on external factors such as the volume of orchestration, the size of the theater etc.
Below there is an illustrative case-naming (????) of the ontage acting singers.


Female Voices

Dramatic Soprano (Soprano dramatico): they have a large voice extent and their voice must be heard over a big orchestra. Warm and metallic voice with an enormous power. The soprano in Wagner’s plays are dramatic, like Salome and Electra in the homonymous operas by Richard Strauss.


Lyrical Sopano (Soprano Lyrico): also a voice with great extent. The lyrical soprano stand out for their ease and suppleness to the highest notes, while their voice is slightly weaker than the voice of dramatic soprano to central and low notes. They move to a larger repertoire range and they usually embody roles of pure, young and cute girls. Some of the most popular opera roles are written for lyrical soprano: e.g. Mimi in Puccini’s La Boheme, Violeta in Verdi’s Traviata, Margarita in Gounod’s Faust.


Coloratura Soprano: their voice is like the sound of a flute: light, clear and very flexible in high notes. Moreover, arias written for coloratura soprano are often in duet with a flute, where the voice imitates the flute and vice versa. A striking example is the aria of madness in Donizetti’s opera Lucia di Lammermoor.


Soprano spinto: they have more power than the lyrical soprano. The spinto characters in opera are dynamic women and we would say that they are the main point of the repertoire, the scope of diva. The best known spinto roles are Madame Butterfly and Tosca (Puccini), Aida (Verdi) and both Eleonors of Verdi (Trovatore and Force of Destiny).


Mezzo-soprano (Mezzo-soprano):
the mezzo-soprano cannot sing the high notes as effortlessly as the soprano. They are divided into dramatic and lyrical.

Οι The dramatic mezzo soprano play the roles of seductresses and prostitutes (as Delilah in the opera Samson and Delilah by Saint-Saens, and perhaps the greatest mezzo role in Bizet’s Carmen), witches (e.g. Azoukena in Verdi’s Trovatore), bad female roles (e.g. Eboli in Verdi’s Don Carlo and Amneris in Verdi’s Aida).


Οι The lyrical mezzo soprano have almost the same voice extent and flexibility with the dramatic soprano but they do not have dramatic tension. Rossini wrote two of his main roles for lyrical mezzo which are full of quick notes: Rosina in the Barber of Seville and Angelina in Cinderella. Moreover, the lyrical mezzo play the so-called role-trousers, i.e. they impersonate young boys. The two best known examples are Cherubini in Mozart’s the Marriage of Figaro and Octavian in the Knight of the Rose by Richard Strauss.


Contralto or Alto: the actual alto is the most deep and rare female voice. This voice is mainly used in preclassical and modern plays or in chorus.



Male Voices

Dramatic tenor (Tenore Dramatico): loud voice with great extent.


Wagner tenor (Heroic tenor, Heldentenor): he mainly sings Wagnerian roles and has great extent. His voice is lusty and similar to the voice of a baritone.


Lyrical tenor (Tenore Lyrico): he almost has the same extent with the dramatic tenor, but his voice is more flexible in high notes. His timber is sweet. He plays roles of gentle and sensitive men.


Light tenor (Tenore Leggero): he does not have a loud voice and the volume is limited but he has great flexibility and exceptional skills at melodic formations. His repertoire includes almost all of Mozart’s and Rossini’s operas.


Castrato tenor (Contra Tenore, Tenore Castrato): his extent is similar to that of a female voice (usually mezzo-soprano). Tenori castrati were distinguished during the baroque and pre-classical era, when boys with beautiful voices in their early teens were castrated before mutation and as they were growing older they kept singing as soprani or alti. Nowadays, tenori castrati use mainly their falsetto voice and not their lowest notes so much.


Dramatic baritone (Baritono Dramatico): his low notes are similar to a bass tenor’s notes but without the same depth and volume, while his central notes are very strong. It is not easy to find a dramatic baritone and they are known as Verdi baritones. They sing roles of bad men in Verdi’s operas like Di Luna in Trovatore and Rigoletto in Rigoletto opera or Scarpia in Puccini’s Tosca.


Lyrical baritone (Baritono Lyrico): he has a sweet voice, weak in central notes but with freedom and flexibility in high notes. He usually plays roles more cheerful like: Marcello in Puccini’s La Boheme, Malatesta in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, Figaro in Rossini’s Barber of Seville and Paganeno in Mozart’s Magic Flute.


Lyrical (Light) bass (Basso Lyrico or Contabile): he has a lusty voice in all its extent with flexibility and sweetness. His high notes are clear and his low notes are very sonorous.


Low bass (Basso Profonde): his timber is deep and full of volume however without the flexibility of Basso Cantabile.