What is Opera?
If you were to ask anyone the question "What is opera?" you will very likely get a variety of answers. Opera literally means "a work" stemming from the Latin word "opus". Opera is traditionally defined as drama set to music, but can best be described as a play that is entirely (or mostly) sung. What differentiates an opera from a musical is that the music of an opera is integral and is not incidental. Operas are generally of two types: Opera Seria or serious opera such as Otello and Opera Buffa or comic opera such as the well know Barber of Seville.
What are Operas About?
One music critic suggests that most opera plots boil down to a soprano and tenor wanting to hook up but being prevented from doing so by the baritone! While that’s not always the case, the theme of unrequited love does turn up in opera frequently. Most of all though, the stories of opera are the human stories of love, loss, triumph and hope.
The First Opera
The art form of opera has been around for over 400 years, and has often been considered the ultimate multimedia experience. The first opera that is recognized as such was Jacopo Peri's Dafne, which was finished in 1597, however only fragments of this are still around, so his second work, Euridice, is often considered the first opera.
The World's Longest Opera
Richard Wagner's The Ring Cycle would last 14 hours if performed all together. Not only is it the longest duration, but it was possible the longest to compose, as it took Richard Wagner 27 years to finish! There are 4 parts to The Ring Cycle: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung.
Projected translations - Surtitles
Surtitles are translations of an opera's libretto, which are projected onto a screen above the stage during a live performance. This is a Canadian innovation which is now standard in almost every opera house of the world. The process was developed by the Canadian Opera Company, and the first production in the world to be presented with these projected translations was the COC's January 1983 staging of Elektra.
Opera in Canada
There are nineteen major professional opera and music theatre companies in Canada.
Canada's professional operating companies spent over $53 million in 2002, (the latest year for which data is available).
For each dollar spent by an opera company, an average of 67 cents goes to production. The remainder goes to marketing and box office (13 cents), administration (12 cents), development, (7 cents) and education (1 cent).
Securing adequate operating resources is a priority for the Canadian opera sector. While seen as 'the healthy discipline', the infrastructure of opera companies is exceedingly fragile, with resources and salaries well below standards in the United States or other European countries.
Of all the performing arts, opera companies raise the most money through the private sector. Statistics Canada reports that 27% of all opera revenue is raised through unearned private contributions. By way of contrast, the proportion for all performing arts, including opera, is 21%.
Public sector funding from all levels of government contributes $14 million to Canada's opera sector. Unrestricted private support, other than earned revenue, is substantially higher at $15.6 million.
Box office and other earned revenue sources account for 42% of an average company's income.
The average highest-priced single ticket to a mainstage production is $87.64, while the lowest is $50.78. (Many companies have young-adult programs in place to attract younger audiences.)
Statistics Canada estimates that 3% of the Canadian population attends opera.
Most Frequently Produced Operas
The most frequently produced operas in the 2007-2008 season were: La bohème, Tosca, La traviata, The Marriage of Figaro, Carmen, Don Giovanni, The Elixir of Love, The Magic Flute, Aida, Madama Butterfly and Turandot. (Source: OPERA America)
The most frequently produced North American operas in the 2007-2008 season were: Amahl and the Night Visitors, Cyrano, A Little Night Music, Cold Sassy Tree, Porgy and Bess and West Side Story. (Source: OPERA America)
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