Opera is a form of musical theater that started in Italy at the end of the sixteenth century, and differs from modern dramas in that all the words are sung, instead of spoken. The opera's story is told through the libretto (the lyrics), the musical score, and acting as well as dancing. Armed with just a little knowledge, an opera doesn't have to be intimidating.
This wonderfully illustrated interactive activity walks us through an opera experience, and is my pick of the week. First comes the program, the overture, and then dance music that "sounds like happy kids jumping!" You become the choreographer as you control Hansel and Gretel's dance steps, or a set designer choosing a backdrop. After the opera, go backstage for teacher resources, an operatic glossary, fairy tale resources, and a voice studio where you'll learn about vocal range.
This one-page summary tells the history of New York's Metropolitan Opera, and in the left-hand sidebar, you'll find an illustrated, audio timelime of the famous opera house. But my favorite clicks (also found in the sidebar) are Sounds of the Met and Stories of the Operas. Sounds of the Met is a collection of more than 200 audio clips, some dating back to the late nineteenth century. Stories of the Operas is a database of operatic stories (with performance video clips), listed by title and composer.
Once available only as a four-CD set, "Opera for Everyone by Ira Ross" is now available as a free download. Each album features a different opera: The Barber of Seville, La Traviata, Carmen and Madama Butterfly. "Each CD tells the story in two ways, first with words and then with music. Ira Ross begins each CD with an introduction to the opera and to the overture. He then describes the action of the first major episode and suggests what to listen for in the related music. This is followed by the music. This sequence is repeated for each additional major episode in the opera: narration - music - etc."
With simple advice on how to "learn" an opera and a short list of recommended first operas, this one-page guide serves as a beginner's introduction to opera. Opera Mania recommends starting with a summary of the story line, and then reading the libretto. "Once you are familiar with the plot, it is time to hear the music. Let yourself go by the feelings it arises, without going through a rational analysis yet."
"Opera is an art form similar to a play in which a story is being told to an audience. In opera, however, the entire story, including the dialogue between characters and sometimes even the inner thoughts of those characters, is sung, not spoken." Download this PDF study guide from the Opera San Jose to learn a little about how opera singers project their voices for up to three hours without any amplification, and about the six ranges of operatic voices: soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone, and bass.