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Sydney Opera House

Opera is a unique form of theatre in which the performers convey a story and reveal their emotions through singing. It is a thrilling amalgamation of all the artforms – music, design, dance and poetry all add to the spectacle of an opera performance.

In contrast to naturalistic drama, in which the actors use ordinary speech, opera relies on words (the libretto) and music (the score) to highlight what is happening on stage, emphasise a particular statement or sensation, and so add another dimension to the dramatic action. Opera is, therefore, a stylised form of theatre - as are dance, mime and plays that are written in poetry, or regular speech rhythms (for example Shakespeare's plays).

In their opera, composers rely on a number of musical structures to portray the events of the opera. These include:

Ensemble singing

The theatrical convention of singing means that several characters are able to express their thoughts or feelings simultaneously in a way not possible in a play. This has provided the opportunity for some of the most lively and exciting moments in opera.

The Aria

This is a climactic solo song form which enables a character to express intense emotion. So moving are many operatic arias that they have become some of the best-known pieces of classical music in the world.

Recitative

This is the operatic structure closest to speech, a less melodic form which concentrates on a reduced instrumental accompaniment to enable the character to advance the action of the opera.