Lyric Opera of Kansas City brings the best the opera world has to offer to Kansas City.

Opera 101

Learn more about what it takes for Lyric Opera of Kansas City to put on an opera production and some general terms commonly used when talking about opera with our Opera 101 questions below.  Have a question about opera that isn’t below?  Contact us.

How long does it take to produce an opera at Lyric Opera of Kansas City?

From the first rehearsal to the first performance, a production at Lyric Opera develops within three to four weeks. During this period, every singer, musician, dancer, producer and director is on location in Kansas City working full time. The operas, however, are chosen and planned by the Lyric Opera more than a year in advance. Similarly, the singers may begin preparation for their roles years in advance.

Did you know? The Lyric Opera of Kansas City has had only two Artistic Directors in its fifty-six seasons.

How come some operas are not in English?

Operas come from all over the world, and the composers and librettists generally write in their native languages.  Thus we get operas from Italy, Germany, France, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Spain and Latin America. Of course there are also operas written by American and British composers in – you guessed it – English.  And now with subtitles, we can follow everything that is being said whether we speak those languages or not.

How long does it take to become an opera singer?

An opera singer’s interest in the art typically begins in the latter part of their high-school education or during their undergraduate studies. However, the human voice takes years, even decades, to reach its full maturity. And lower voices, physiologically speaking, take even longer to mature than higher ones. The majority of opera singers have undergraduate, as well as graduate degrees in order to learn how to develop their voices to the fullest.  It is not until the age of twenty-four or twenty-five, that the voice begins to reach its maturity.

How do operatic voices differ?

Opera singers’ voices come in many different varieties. In fact there are so many different voice types that in the 19th century, German opera houses developed a system of naming voices known as the Fach (pronounced “FAHkh”) System. Fach is a German word meaning compartment or pigeon-hole.

The most general category within the Fach System is the range in which the voice can sing. From highest to lowest they are soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone and bass. Within these six categories, a voice can be further described by their weight, size and timbre or color. A Dramatic Coloratura Soprano, for example, would have a voice described as high, dark and flexible. A Serious Bass, on the other hand, would be described as mature, rich and powerful.

What is a libretto?

Script is to a stage play, as screenplay is to a movie, as libretto is to opera. The libretto is the text of the songs in an operatic performance. Libretto means “little book” in Italian. And little indeed! A typical libretto is scarcely thicker than your average magazine. But remember, singing a sentence takes about three times longer than speaking it.

Did you know? Until 1977, the Lyric Opera of Kansas City was called the Lyric Theater.  In those days, the logo of the Lyric Theater was often accompanied by the wording “Opera in English,” a characteristic that was appealing to audiences before the days of subtitle technology. But the times have changed! Accessibility to English subtitles has increase profoundly as technology has evolved from projections to individual seat screens and beyond.

Where is that music coming from?

As is the age-old opera tradition, neither the singers on stage, nor the musicians in the pit are electronically amplified in the Muriel Kauffman Theatre. Every musician in the pit is a member of the Kansas City Symphony; a partnership that was first established between the Lyric Theater and the Kansas City Philharmonic Orchestra in 1974 and continues to this day, despite the name changes.

Did you know? When the Muriel Kauffman Theatre was undergoing design, the acoustical consulting firm, Nagata Acoustics, built a 1/10 scale model of the Theatre out of the exact material that would be used in its construction, in order to sound test the unique acoustical characteristics of the Theatre.

Are there different types of opera?

Besides the inherent difference between operatic styles from composers of different nationalities, there are two overarching genres of opera: funny opera and serious opera. The former, in Italian referred to as opera buffa (“BOOF-ah”) means “buffoon opera.”  The latter, opera seria, is translated from Italian, quite literally, as “serious opera.” Think Rossini’s The Barber of Seville versus Verdi’s Otello.

What is the longest opera?

The longest opera, Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle, clocks in at nearly eighteen hours. Four (very) full-length operas, Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung, make up the four sequential “parts” of Wagner’s epic work. What is interesting about the four works is that Wagner wrote them in reverse order, beginning with Götterdamerun and ending with Das Rheingold, because as he wrote his librettos, he realized that the complexity of each required yet another preceding opera to explain the missing pieces of the storyline.

Did you know? Ever wonder about the famous line, “the opera ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings?” Look no further for its origin than Brunhilde’s ten-minute aria at the end of Götterdamerun.

What is the shortest opera?

The shortest known opera to have ever been written is The Deliverance of Theseus, by Darius Milhaud. It runs only seven minutes and thirty-six seconds.

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