Ask the Opera

Like most of the performing arts, audiences generally only see the final product when they attend an opera performance. But before the curtain ever goes up, numerous people have been working for countless hours (weeks!) (months!)—learning vocal parts, designing sets and costumes, preparing orchestrations, etc. 

Here’s your chance to step backstage and witness the process. Think of us as a good friend with a backstage pass, and we’ll give you the inside scoop on how it all happens. Use our handy form to ask your own question.


So, what's the difference between an opera and musical? Two of your shows are considered operas and the other described as a musical. I think people who enjoy musicals--which often have silly, unbelievable stories or are even tragic (like Carousel or West Side Story)--should enjoy opera when sung in their original language. If opera is sung in English for audiences who primarily know English, doesn't that immediately make it more accessible?

In the early part of the twentieth century, musicals were often little more than reviews—a collection of stand-alone songs, novelty acts, and lavish production numbers, with only the thinnest of plots to hold them together. But with the premiere of Hammerstein and Kern's Show Boat in 1927, the musical comedy (or musical drama) becomes a much more plot- and character-driven work.

While operas and musicals tended to remain completely separate forms even into the "golden age of Broadway" (roughly the 1940s to the 1960s), individual exceptions stand out. Carousel (1945) offers, as you mentioned, a tragic story told through stirring music, structured—like an opera—with recitatives and arias. West Side Story (1957) likewise contains a complex, jazz-influenced, score of operatic scale.

Opera Theater loves to perform in the language of our audience, because of the immediacy this brings. When we easily understand the language of the singers, we're even more caught up in the drama, hopefully leading to a more profound experience of the work.


I’ve often wondered how long the singers have to rehearse to prepare for an opera - how long does it take?

Before singers even arrive at Opera Theater, they’ve already spent months memorizing their music. Rehearsals begin anywhere from 3-6 weeks before the performance opens. Singers go through intensive music rehearsals, staging runs, and vocal coaching. Throw in some costume fittings, photo shoots, and media interviews, and the rehearsal period is more than a full-time job!


How is it that opera companies don’t recognize how irrelevant they’re becoming?

Actually, at Opera Theater we are well aware that the way opera was performed 100 years ago no longer is relevant for the 21st century! That’s why all our productions are sung in English, because you shouldn’t have to brush up on your high school Italian to understand what’s happening onstage. And an evening at Opera Theater isn’t a stuffy formal affair at all…just take a look at SummerFest 2012. You can show up early for a picnic and free outdoor entertainment, see an opera, have a drink outside on the patio while listening to Broadway tunes, and then catch an episode of our hilarious (and naughty!) world premiere late-night mini opera series: Night Caps. In the fall of 2012, maybe you’d even like to vote online for contestants in our “Opera Champion of Pittsburgh” competition. Kids in grades PreK - 12 also get a chance to experience free interactive opera workshops and student matinees each winter/spring at their schools. Basically, everything we do here strives to make opera an art form that is still meaningful and entertaining for today’s audiences. And if you’ve tried us out and don’t agree, we are open to suggestions! Please send us feedback!


How do you choose the operas you present on the stage? With so many operas available, how do you select just a few that work together in a season?

We plan a season much like you’d plan a dinner with friends. We try to select “courses” that complement each other: one heavy, one light, one amusing, one whimsical, etc. What’s important is to always include a surprise—something unexpected and memorable.