What is Opera?

Rosina (Sandra Piques Eddy) and Count Almaviva (John Tessier) in New Zealand Opera’s production of The Barber of Seville 2019.

Opera is a type of theatre which combines drama, music, elements of dance or movement and, often, exciting costumes and set.

However, in opera, the actors are trained singers who sing their lines instead of speaking them.

A librettist writes the words that are to be sung, like a script. Often, the plots of the operas are taken from stories in books or plays. A composer writes the music for the singers and orchestra.

An orchestra accompanies the singers. A conductor coordinates both the singers on stage and the musicians.

An easy way to think of opera is a story told with music. In a lot of opera, the people on stage sing all the way through. Imagine having all your conversations by singing them!

Opera Singers

It takes a lot of training to become an opera singer. A lot of aspiring opera singers will take this route: sing in choirs, take singing lessons, study singing and music at university, then audition for parts in operas.

Singing opera can be very physical and tiring because of the effort that goes into making a very special sound. Opera singers hardly ever use microphones, which means that they train their voices to be heard by audiences even over the top of orchestras.  

Operatic Voices

Here are the names of some of the types of voices we hear in opera:

Soprano: Female singer with a high voice

Mezzo – Soprano: Female singer with a mid-range voice     

Contralto: Female singer with a low voice       

Tenor:  Male singer with a high, usually strong, voice

Baritone: Male singer with a mid-range voice 

Bass:  Male singer with a low voice     

Want to hear what these types of voices sound like? Click the image below to hear the range of opera voices.

Click the link to hear opera voice types.

Have you ever thought you’d like to be an opera singer?

Good on you if you have! Go for it. Here’s a video clip with our Chorus manager Glenn Meade where she gives some useful tips on how you can start your singing career!

Opera is universal

Music is universal and humans have been making music forever. Sometimes opera and classical music is perceived to be a medium only enjoyed by the rich and famous, however that is not the truth, merely how it is often told through the media. There are so many stories in opera, all of human life is there; love, death, jealousy, power, humour, sadness and grief. Opera can help us make sense of our sorrows and celebrate our joys that we encounter in life, no matter how great or small.

Here’s a lovely clip showing how singers from two different worlds can connect through music and song, New Zealand’s Tenor Simon O’Neill and Matiu Walters from Six60.


We hope you’ve enjoyed our article on opera and please let us know if there’s anything you’d like to see – just email us we’d love to help answer any questions you have about opera.

Thanks to Callum Blackmore for the use of some teaching resource prepared for Opera in Schools.