CLASSROOM STUDY MATERIAL to prepare for the performance of HANSEL AND GRETEL

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1 The Holt Building 221 Lambert Avenue Palo Alto, CA Telephone Box Office WBOpera.org CLASSROOM STUDY MATERIAL to prepare for the performance of HANSEL AND GRETEL Please use the material below to prepare your students for the assembly. Any preparation you provide the students will enhance their enjoyment and appreciation of the performance. A glossary of opera terminology is given below followed by a description of some of the career opportunities found in opera. GLOSSARY OF OPERA TERMS What is opera? Opera is a story sung to music. The stories are often very dramatic, sometimes sad, and sometimes funny. It is the most complex of all the arts, because it is a combination of all of them. The performers must have beautiful singing voices and must be able to act, as well. Since operas have been written by people all over the world, the singers must learn several different languages. Besides the singing, operas require an orchestra. Also, talented people are needed to create the stage sets, props, lighting, and sound effects, as well as costumes, makeup, and wigs for all the performers. In opera, people are often singing about what they are thinking. This is very difficult to do in a play. One of the unique things in opera is that several people can be singing about their separate thoughts at the same time. This is impossible in a spoken play. People started writing what we now call opera almost 400 years ago! The first known opera was Dafne, written in Italy by Jacopo Peri in As opera became more and more popular, special theaters were built for the productions. Since there was no television or radio, the opera house became a popular meeting place, and operas were like the Broadway shows of the time. It was not uncommon for people to hum tunes from operas on the street. These days complete operas are occasionally shown on television, and subtitles or supertitles in English are projected on screens for people who don t understand the language being sung. Operas are also available on video for home enjoyment. What are the different types of songs in opera? Aria: Duet: Trio: Quartet: A song sung by one person. A song sung by two people at the same time. A song sung by three people at the same time. A song sung by four people at the same time. Groups of singers such as duet, trios and quartets, are called ensembles. 12/02/16 Hansel and Gretel Pre-performance classroom study material Page 1 of 5

2 What are the different types of voices in opera? Soprano: Mezzo Soprano: Contralto: Tenor: Baritone: Bass: A female high voice A female medium voice A female low voice A male high voice A male medium voice A male low voice What kinds of stories are found in operas? Some operas are very dramatic and may even have a sad ending, and some operas are comedies. Some opera stories are about imaginary gods and goddesses, and more modern ones are often based on the lives of real people and real events. What is an Accompanist? An accompanist is a person who plays the piano so that a singer can sing along with the music. He/she takes the place of an orchestra in rehearsals or in performances where an orchestra is not available. What is an Overture? An overture is a musical introduction to an opera. There is no singing during the overture, but the overture contains melodies (tunes) from the arias (songs) that will be heard later in the opera. What is Recitative? (Pronounced re-si-ta-teev) Recitative is singing that sounds halfway between ordinary speech and singing. The words are recited in rising and falling tones and with a rhythm similar to speaking, but there is a pitch to each syllable. Arias are usually melodic and beautiful, but the words are often poetic and usually are not enough to tell the whole story. So, in opera, recitative is used to advance the storyline in between arias or ensembles. What is the Set? A set or scenery is the name given to the make-believe surroundings used onstage to present a play or an opera. A Set Designer designs the sets. Presenting an opera onstage also involves special lighting, which is created by a lighting designer. Different from movies, stage productions are not intended to be perfectly realistic. Instead, they aim to create an atmosphere or feeling, to bring the audience into the story. OITS brings simple portable sets to these school performances, to create a backdrop for the action, and the students fill in the rest using their own imagination. What are Costumes? Costumes are the clothes worn by singers and actors onstage. A Costume Designer designs the costumes. The set designer and the costume designer work together to design sets and costumes that will be coordinated in style and color and fit in with the time period in which the story of the opera takes place. What is a Pants Role? The role of a young boy is often sung by a mezzo-soprano, since a young boy s voice would not be strong enough. The mezzo s voice is slightly lower than that of a soprano. What is a Patter Song? A patter song is a song with a lot of syllables sung in very quick rhythm. What is Coloratura? A song decorated with trills, grace notes, and technically difficult vocal passages. 12/02/16 Hansel and Gretel Pre-performance classroom study material Page 2 of 5

3 What are Properties or Props? Props are objects used onstage by singers or actors other than the set or costumes; for example, a broom or a glass of water. Everything that happens on stage is make-believe. If the prop is something potentially dangerous, like a gun or sword, it has to be made harmless before it can be used onstage. For example, a sword s edge is dulled and a gun barrel is filled up with putty. What is a Supernumerary? A supernumerary (or super) is a person who has a small acting (non-singing) part in an opera and usually serves as a volunteer, without pay, just for the love of being part of the show. In West Bay Opera s OITS program which you re going to see, some of your classmates will be supers. What are Supertitles and Subtitles? These are the words of the story in English which are projected onto a screen above or to the side of the stage as the performers sing. This is to help the audience to understand the story more clearly, since most operas are sung in a foreign language. When opera is shown on TV, the words are at the bottom of the screen and are called subtitles. To get the most enjoyment from an opera, the audience should also read the libretto (story) at home before attending the opera. Do opera lovers like every opera? Definitely not! Just like watching movies and TV shows, people like some and not others. There are so many different types of operas that people are bound to have favorite ones and maybe not care for some at all. There are many different styles of music and types of stories from which to choose. So one should be adventurous and listen to a variety. In what languages are operas sung? Most operas these days are sung in the language in which they were originally written, usually Italian, German or French. There are also many operas written in Russian and some written in English, Czech and Spanish, as well. Operas that were written in English are performed in English. West Bay Opera s OITS program will present its mini-operas to you in English, even though they were written in other languages. OPERA-RELATED PROFESSIONS Opera is not just about the singers. It s a form of theater. It takes a great deal of knowledge, training and talent to put together an opera. Opera is the most complex of ALL the performing art forms, because it involves MANY different crafts and skills. Here are some of the most prominent occupations involved in producing an opera. Perhaps you will take an interest in one of these areas and some day you will want to work in opera. A Librettist (author) writes the story (called the libretto). This is similar to the script for a movie or play, but the words are not as conversational as in A Composer writes the music. A Conductor rehearses and prepares the production musically and leads the orchestra, principal singers and chorus in performance. The conductor keeps the performance together, making sure instruments play and singers sing at the right moments, ensembles sing together and, in general, that the sound produced by the orchestra closely supports and enhances the dramatic action that is happening onstage. 12/02/16 Hansel and Gretel Pre-performance classroom study material Page 3 of 5

4 An Orchestra plays the music (sometimes there are only a few musicians; sometimes as many as 100, depending on the opera). A Stage Director rehearses the singers, chorus, supers and dancers as to how to move onstage and how to act their roles. The performers have to memorize all of this in order to perform their roles. That s what they do in rehearsals. A Stage Manager runs backstage crew like a general commanding his troops in battle. He or she calls the cues (signals for action) for lighting changes and scene shifts, alerting chorus and principal singers about when they are supposed to come onstage, and initiating special effects like smoke or snow at the exact moment when they are supposed to happen in the opera. He or she is responsible for running the show onstage exactly the way the stage director planned it. A Set Designer creates a design for the set, and it requires carpenters and painters to build and finish it. Some things work like a machine (maybe a dragon or a boat), and may require mechanics or electricians to build them. The set designer also works with a Projections Designer on video and still images that are projected as part of the set. A Lighting Designer decides what type of lighting should be used to make the set look its best and to create special effects (such as lightning). Electricians are also necessary to implement the lighting design. A Costume Designer designs the costumes, intended to look like what people wore at the time the story takes place. It takes many people to cut the fabric and sew the costumes. Since singers usually have to get dressed in a rush, wardrobe people (called dressers) help them. Costume designers also design headpieces and hats for the performers, sometimes requiring hat makers to build them. Shoemakers are also often involved in building special period shoes and boots for operas. A Wig Designer creates wigs for the performers to complete their costume. A Make-up Artist must apply make-up to each performer, so they look right. Otherwise, the bright lighting onstage would make them look very pale. Language Coaches help the singers during rehearsals learn how to pronounce words correctly, when they have to sing in a foreign language. Vocal Coaches, accompany singers on the piano in private rehearsals or coachings, to help the singers learn and practice their parts. Dancers are part of many operas that include ballet numbers. When ballet numbers are called for in an opera, there is typically a Choreographer, who creates the dance numbers (the specific moves and steps) to be performed. Supernumeraries or Supers are actors who do not sing but appear on stage in nonspeaking parts. They are often seen as the maids and valets of the principal singers, but they can also be part of a crowd or they can be acrobats or help with changes in sets or furniture that are happening onstage during the performance. Stage Hands and Prop Handlers put all the sets, furniture and props into place onstage. Set changes usually have to happen very quickly. It takes expert coordination to get everything done fast in the time available. 12/02/16 Hansel and Gretel Pre-performance classroom study material Page 4 of 5

5 A Props Designer is responsible for the tables, chairs, lamps, swords, and other items that are used or carried by characters onstage in an opera, but which are not considered part of the set. The Props Designer must make or obtain the props, keep track of them, and have them onstage at the right time. Props or Properties are divided into scene and hand props. A scene prop is an object that sits on the stage and is placed in one location; typically a piece of furniture, like a lamp. A hand prop is an object that a performer carries on stage and uses in acting the part he is performing, such as a fan. Sound Designers and Sound Effects people take care of making special noises in the opera, such as thunder, a cannon blast or a creaking door opening. An Artistic Director or sometimes a General Director, is responsible for deciding which operas to stage each season, selecting the singers, musicians and other artists, hiring the conductors, directors and designers, making sure that everyone is working together and that the final product is of very good quality. A Production Manager is responsible for ensuring that sets, costumes, props and all other onstage components of the opera are produced on time and on budget, to the exact specifications provided by the designers. The Administration Staff handles many functions, such as writing contracts for the artists, scheduling rehearsals, doing publicity, selling tickets, paying people after the show is done and many business details. These are some of the most prominent roles for people involved in producing an opera, and there are many others who work behind the scenes to make things run smoothly 12/02/16 Hansel and Gretel Pre-performance classroom study material Page 5 of 5

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