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"Opera is when a guy gets stabbed and instead of bleeding, he sings."
Ed Gardner
"Well, basically there are two sorts of operas. There's your heavy opera, where basically people sing foreign and it goes like 'Oh oh oh, I am dyin', oh, I am dyin', oh, oh, oh, that's what I'm doin', and there's your light opera, where they sing in foreign and it basically goes 'Beer! Beer! Beer! Beer! I like to drink lots of beer!' although sometimes they drink champagne instead. That's basically all of opera, really."
Nanny Ogg, Maskerade

(Not the Web browser or a certain Canadian radio program.)

Opera has been around since the end of the 16th century and still going strong(ish -- hardly anything composed in the last half-century has entered the standard repertoire). Most basically, opera is musical theater -- just (generally) within the classical idiom; dialogue is usually sung rather than spoken. Major opera composers include Mozart, Handel, Verdi, Wagner, Puccini and Richard Strauss, though there are, of course, many more.

The opera genre is as varied as any other. Some operas have incredibly well-crafted lyrics and story lines that are true works of art, while others are not quite as brilliant. Many operas are comedies, and even the serious ones tend to have at least some humorous parts.

That said, the opera genre is known for featuring many a work with extremely drawn-out texts focusing on a single (often trivial) theme. As a result, opera texts (libretti) are often mocked, and in many cases it's mainly the quality of the music that makes an opera work, along with the same thing you need for any theatrical production: committed performers bringing the art form to life on stage. Movies have car chases, rock songs have guitar solos, and operas have death-arias (the soprano frequently dies). In fact, both Anna Russell and B.J. Ward (in her one-woman show, Stand-Up Opera) have made entire comedy routines of poking fun at opera tropes.

Several modern films and other works have been created as operas (that is, entirely consisting of sung dialogue). The most famous "serious" opera film is probably The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, starring Catherine Deneuve. A very modern example is Repo! The Genetic Opera, which transplants the style into industrial sci-fi horror. The term Rock Opera is thrown around at times for a sub-genre of the themed Concept Album, but most "rock operas" are not produced for the stage (with an exception or two). The nearest thing to a modern successor to opera is Broadway-style Musical Theater. Indeed, musicals can trace their origins to opera through the operatic subgenre of operetta or light opera, which, as its name implies, is light in terms of subject matter (i.e. it's funny) and music, and often feature a good deal more plain dialogue than ordinary operas. The works of Gilbert and Sullivan are generally considered transitional, as while they considered their works to be comic operas, they would probably be called musicals if produced today.

Used in movies and TV shows to add a touch of class. Or just something artsy. Or for the cast to get bored and fall asleep, which is something that can't be done (too loud).


Tropes typical of opera

  • Aesop
  • All There in the Manual Without a program, good luck trying to understand what's going on on stage.
    • MANY modern opera houses (Especially in Germany) show the text right above the stage, and some fancy opera houses even have a small screen on the back of the seats with the text in several selectable languages.
      • Performing opera in translation has disadvantages too. It's often just as hard to make out the words, and when you can the effect isn't always what it might be. For example, to an English ear Tosca (in one of the rare operas with a stonking good story) may sound dramatic when she sings 'Mori! Mori! Mori! ... È morto.' but translated into English this becomes 'Die! Die! Die! ... He's dead.' 'Nuff said.
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations
  • Blood-Splattered Wedding Dress: Poor, poor Lucia di Lammermoor.
  • Camp: Especially in Richard Strauss operas)
  • Classical Mythology: Baroque (1601-1750) operas tended to draw on these for their plots.
  • Creator Couple: Practically every opera by Vincenzo Bellini that you will see (except his last, I Puritani) has a libretto by Felice Romani.
  • Crosscast Role: There are many "trouser roles" for women playing men and several "skirt roles" for men playing women.
    • In the Baroque period (Opera's earliest century-and-a-half), female roles were often played by male castrati. (And, yes, a castrato is exactly what you think it is.)
  • Dark Reprise
  • Dawson Casting: Due to the physical requirements and amount of training involved, teenage characters like Cio-Cio-San (Madama Butterfly) or Salome are almost always portrayed by singers in their twenties or older. And teenage boys are generally played by adult women, usually mezzo-sopranos.
    • Sometimes averted with less demanding roles such as Barbarina from The Marriage of Figaro, who is occasionally played by a high-school aged singer.
  • Distressed Damsel
  • Deus Angst Machina
  • Deus Ex Machina
  • Downer Ending: Anything by Puccini or Verdi
    • Bittersweet Ending: In the rare cases it's not.
    • Anything by Puccini... excepting the chamber comedy Gianni Schicchi. Although, the entire Donati clan may disagree that it was quite so funny.
  • Dramatis Personae
  • Ending Fatigue: A common complaint of several operas.
  • Epic Song: What would an opera be without at least one of these?
  • Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory: Individual operas may very well be subject to this, but the entire form of Opera is actually a product of this. In attempting to revive classical Greek plays to the theatre of the Renaissance era, interested scholars decided that the Greek plays were meant to be sung in their entirety. New works followed suit, and the rest is history.
  • Femme Fatale: All the best diva roles. Special mention goes to Violetta from La Traviata.
  • Flame War: For all the veneer of civilisation in the genre, opera enthusiasts can get just as vicious in defense of their favourite singers and composers as any other fans. Just go have a look at the comments on any opera clip on YouTube.
  • Gender Bender: Not only are many male roles played by women, but many of these men end up crossdressing.
  • Happily Ever After: Anything by Mozart or Rossini
    • Rossini has had his share of tragic endings as well, in his lesser known 'serious' operas.
  • "I Am" Song
  • Ill Girl: Mimi in La Boheme and Violetta in La Traviata.. They both have the infamous Incurable Cough of Death
  • "I Want" Song
  • Irrelevant Act Opener: Lots of operas -- often a drinking song
  • Kill'Em All
  • Large Ham: Opera has long been full of hammy divas and divos (many roles, and perhaps the very nature of Romantic opera, lend themselves to this), though singers and productions seem to be averting this trope more and more these days, partly thanks to speakers making it no longer necessary to have No Indoor Voice.
  • Leitmotif: Wagner Wagner commentator Hans von Wolzogen is the Trope Namer, although the concept predated Wagner by quite a while
  • Love Hurts
  • Love It or Hate It: Richard Wagner. Composer of the finest music and producer of the best plots ever, or overly bombastic and just too damn long-winded?
  • Love Triangle
  • The Musical: La Boheme into Rent, Madame Butterfly into Miss Saigon, La Traviata into Moulin Rouge, and Aïda into Aida
  • One-Hit Wonder: Pietro Mascagni and Ruggero Leoncavallo fall into this category respectively with Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci.
    • Composers who only wrote one opera include:
      • Béla Bartók: Duke Bluebeard's Castle
      • Ludwig van Beethoven: Fidelio
      • Paul Dukas (The Sorcerer's Apprentice): Ariane et Barbe-bleu (three other operas are now lost)
      • Franz Liszt (Hungarian Rhapsody): Don Sanche -- and it was a collaborative effort written, no less, when he was in his teens
      • Jean Sibelius: The Maiden in the Tower, composed to a Swedish libretto and first performed in Helsinki
  • One-Woman Wail
  • Paper-Thin Disguise
    • Necessary Weasel. The entire audience, including the rearmost, who are usually 50m or more from the stage, have to understand who the disguised character is.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: Many, many famous tunes are originally from operas. In particular, the Ride of the Valkyries and a number of other Standard Snippets have operatic origins.
  • Recursive Crossdressing: Cherubino from The Marriage of Figaro, Octavian from Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, and many more.
  • Recycled Script: Several examples, but Rossini was particularly well known for lifting music from one of his operas to another. It was acceptable at the time, as long as the two works didn't premiere in the same town.
  • Rule of Drama: The meeting of the queens in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, just to name one example.
  • Rule of Three: Many operas have three acts, especially those of Wagner.
    • For Verdi and Puccini, their third operas (respectively with Nabucco and Manon Lescaut) formally launched their careers.
  • Shallow Love Interest: Very common - as in the Commedia dell'Arte, viewers are given little explanation as to who the inamorati actually are. They're young and in love, which usually sums up both characters' entire personalities (or at least the soprano's).
  • Sung Through: That's kind of the point.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Fidelio
  • Tear Jerker: Some operas, especially ones by Puccini, seem engineered specifically to be as heart-rending as possible.
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry: In opera, this trope is pretty much a must-have, since the music is more important than the words and many singers don't bother acting things out too much. Opera is full of (insert adjective here) mi sento and other status-descriptions
    • Or the composer/librettist put it in to give the singer an indication of how the character should feel; singers are expected to act nowadays.
    • Also, during the Baroque era, musical drama tended to be structured according to the so-called doctrine of affects, with consecutive numbers depicting contrasting emotions - a lilting love duet followed by a furious vengeance aria, for instance. If the idea is to juxtapose readily identifiable emotions for maximum effect, it makes sense to flag them in the libretto.
  • Theme Song Reveal: Most notably in Wagner's Die Walküre
  • True Art Is Angsty
  • Untranslated Title: Most of the titles below that are not proper nouns.
  • Villain Protagonist: Boris Godunov, Don Giovanni, Faust
  • Villain Song
  • What Is This Thing You Call Love?: Many characters wonder something similar aloud in trying to understand their feelings; most conclude that, yes, that strange feeling is love indeed
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: Many, many operas
  • World of Ham: Pretty much all of them. An Enforced Trope back then, since you have to SHOUT for the back audience and poetically narrate each little thing that is happening to you while epic music plays.
  • Willing Suspension of Disbelief: Pretty much a given for all operas ever. Many plots are completely implausible, The Casanova is often played by a short, fat, middle aged guy, The Ingenue is often played by a tall, buxom woman, and there's only so much costuming can do. Opera is pretty much built on this trope - generally, the audience is there for the music.
  • Yandere: Many a love rival, of both genders.
Examples appearing in fiction


Famous operas

  • Antonín Dvořák
    • Rusalka
  • Philip Glass
    • Einstein On The Beach
    • Akhnaten
  • Georg Friedrich Händel (over 50 music dramas in total; listed are some of his greatest hits)
  • Leoš Janáček
    • Jenufa
    • Kát'a Kabanová
  • Jules Massenet
    • Manon
    • Thais
  • Claudio Monteverdi
    • Orfeo (oldest opera still regularly performed) (The Trope Maker)
    • When Monteverdi composed L'Orfeo, Opera as a genre didn't yet exist. The collection of songs to be performed back-to-back was merely advertised as Monteverdi's new "works." The Latin word for works is opera (plural of opus), and the term has been with us ever since.
  • Amilcare Ponchielli
  • Bedřich Smetana
    • Prodaná nevesta (The Bartered Bride)
  • Johann Strauss, Jr.
    • Die Fledermaus
  • Richard Strauss
    • Die ägyptische Helena (Helen [of Troy] in Egypt)
    • Arabella
    • Ariadne Auf Naxos (Ariadne on Naxos)
    • Daphne
    • Elektra
    • Die Frau Ohne Schatten (The Lady Without A Shadow)
    • Der Rosenkavalier (The Cavalier of the Rose)
    • Salome (after the Oscar Wilde play)
  • Richard Wagner
    • Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman)
    • Lohengrin -- Source of the Bridal Chorus
    • Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Master-singers of Nuremberg)
    • Parsifal
    • The Ring of the Nibelung (Der Ring des Nibelungen, often referred to as the Ring Cycle)
      • Das Rheingold (The Rhine-gold)
      • Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) -- Source of the Ride of the Valkyries
      • Siegfried
      • Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) -- working title Siegfrieds Tod (Siegfried's Death)
    • Tannhaeuser und der Sängerkrieg auf Wartburg (Tannhäuser and the Song Contest at the Wartburg)
    • Tristan und Isolde (Tristram and Iseult)
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