Viswa Subbaraman

Opera and Orchestra Conductor

Opera 101: Italian Opera - Info.

So as promised, here is some extra information that I promised all of you who came out for Opera Vista’s inaugural Opera 101.  If you’d like to join Opera Vista’s mailing list, please send us an email at  Opera Vista's next production is on September 26 at Bayou Bend where we will be performing Wynton Marsalis' A Fiddler's Tale - more info at I thought I would give you a recap of all the things we talked about with some links to places where you can get more information.  We started out by talking about some of the components of traditional opera: recitative, aria, and chorus.


The recitative is the part of the opera that tells you the story and the plot line.  (In our example from the Opera 101, I made up the example of the baby mama recit.)  Here is a great example of what I was talking about on YouTube.  You’ll see one of America’s greatest conductors talking about the recitative, and he sings a recitative about the higher price of chicken in the style of Mozart, Verdi, and Wagner.  I can tell you that he does an incredible job of mimicking each of those composer’s styles.



So the recitative tells the story and advances the plot, which leads us to the aria.  The aria is there to communicate the emotion.  In the Bernstein YouTube example he talks a bit about the recitative leading into a song by the wife about the high cost of living.  In our example of the baby momma bit from Opera 101, the aria was the portion where the woman sings about being traumatized that her baby daddy found out that she had slept with his brother.  You heard a variety of arias at Opera 101.  Here are some YouTube links to the arias we talked about:

Puccini’s “Donde lieta usci” from the opera La Boheme.

This was the aria from Boheme where Mimi and Rudolfo were deciding to break up.  (Here is a link to a plot summary from Boheme.)

Catalani’s “Ebben ne andro lontana” from La Wally.

This was the aria from the opera about the heroine committing suicide by jumping into the avalanche.  (Here is a link to the plot summary from La Wally).

Rossini’s “Una voce poco fa” from Barber of Seville,

Rossini’s “Largo al factotum” from Barber of Seville,


The first was the aria where Rosina was singing about falling in love with the voice on the street, and the second was with the title character of Figaro singing about how he was being pulled in all directions because he was the factotum of the village.  (Here is a link to the plot summary from Barber of Seville).

So, those are the examples of the arias you heard last night.  Again, the aria is the development of the emotion.


Finally, we talked about choruses.  The chorus is the part of the opera where the social commentary happens.  It could be the villagers who are commenting on the situation or gossiping about the situation.

We talked about two choruses – one from Verdi’s Nabucco and one from Verdi’s Trovatore.  “Va pensiero” from Nabucco is the one we sang together.  It was the chorus of the Hebrew slaves as they longed for their homeland.  You can see YouTube clips of each of them below:

Verdi’s “va pensiero…”


Verdi’s anvil chorus


I’ll also be updating my blog regularly, so feel free to subscribe to it as I’ll add some tidbits on opera, music, and the business of music on a regular basis.  I’m looking forward to seeing you at Opera Vista’s upcoming performance at Bayou Bend where we will be performing an opera with no singing – Wynton Marsalis’ A Fiddler’s Tale on September 26.  For more info, please visit