Note from Quaver: Musicals Vs. Operas

by Abby @ Quaver on February 21, 2012

in At Quaver HQ,In the Quaver Classroom!,Quaver's Notes,

Quaver’s back with the age old debate: Musicals vs. Operas!

What? You’ve never pitted these two triumphs of the screen and stage against one another? Well, there’s a first time for everything!


Lately, we’ve been working on a new Venue for all about Show Tunes, and it got me thinking about the differences between an Opera and a Musical. I had a debate with some friends about which is more natural – to sing all of the way through the performance as in opera OR to have spoken dialogue suddenly break into song as in musicals.

Let’s look at both, starting with the Opera.

In a traditional opera by Mozart, there are often songs where the hero repeatedly pledges his undying love or the heroine sings from her death-bed, gazing into her true love’s eyes. (Why you would want to sing at that point, I’m not entirely sure).

Operas often also contain a different kind of singing, called a recitative, where dialogue is delivered by singing, but not in a traditional song form.

A recitative is a narrative song that describes some action, thought, or emotion. The recitative follows the natural flow of the language, and is more a speaking composition than a singing composition.

During a recitative, the harpsichord plays a chord and the singer will sing his dialogue. It would be a bit like you getting up in the morning and singing to your mother:

“Hello Mom! What’s for breakfast today? Jerry is giving me a ride to school.”

The words do not rhyme, or even have to be in any particular meter, but they are delivered by singing. This is how operas can have music all the way through and no dialogue. Check out this clip of some great recitative from an Opera by Mozart and you’ll get the idea!

Now, let’s take a look at Musicals.

Musicals have a mixture of spoken dialogue and song. There’s always that funny part when the characters are talking and suddenly we hear the piano and orchestra start the Um cha, Um cha, Um cha, Um cha, pattern and everyone thinks: “There’s a song coming!” Sure enough, there is.

In Musical theater, equal importance is given to the music as compared with the dialogue, movement and other elements of the works. Musicals also tend to employ more dancing than operas, while both can be either dramatic or comedic in tone!

So, which is better?

Well there is no such thing as better in music – they’re just different. Which do I prefer? I think I prefer the mix of song and dialogue in musicals, but why don’t you decide?

Okay, back to Show Tunes . . . QuaverOut!

What do you think? Do you prefer operas or musicals?
Listen to a few of each and have your students point out more differences!

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