Theme and Variations

Thoughts and experiences of exploring classical, jazz, and other art music.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Language and Opera

If you are not an opera fan, you may not have noticed that a lot of it is in the Italian language. The birth of opera occurred in Italy around 1600, so Italian makes since. However, this is not why that language is so popular for the art form.

What makes Italian so appropriate is that the words have lots of vowel sounds. Vowel sounds can be extended. If you've ever heard someone yodel, you know that they sing vowel sounds. Consonants, for the most part, cannot be extended. Try to extended the letter B for a few seconds. The "buh" sound goes by quickly, but the "eee" can be carried on until you run out of breath.

Consider some of the big words in opera:

Amore (love), pronounced ah-Mor-aye
Vendetta (revenge), pronounced ven-DET-tuh

The preponderance of vowels allows the singer to perform the great arias of opera.

Compare that to the German language. There is a lot of German opera, but it sounds very different. German has lots of guttural, consonant sounds, though there are vowels in there, too.

I don't speak any languages other than English, however most of the video and DVD recordings of opera feature subtitles, so I can follow what is being said and sung. At live performances, English is provided by supertitles. As such, the language barrier does not prevent me from enjoying the show.


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