The Opera Database: Find Scores, Libretti & Synopses for Thousands of Operas Free Online

It’s not espe­cial­ly hard to get inex­pen­sive tick­ets to the opera if you live in, say, New York. But it’s not so easy if you live hun­dreds of miles from a major opera house. Opera’s rar­i­ty, how­ev­er, does not make it a “more ele­vat­ed” form than, say, musi­cal the­ater, argues Antho­ny Tom­masi­ni in The New York Times. Musi­cals may have mar­ket share, and opera may bare­ly sus­tain itself from a dwin­dling pool of pri­vate donors, but the com­ic operas of Mozart once played broad­ly to mass audi­ences, “and there is no big­ger crowd pleas­er than Leoncavallo’s impas­sioned ‘Pagli­ac­ci.’”

The major for­mal dif­fer­ence between musi­cal the­ater and opera is that “in opera, music is the dri­ving force; in musi­cal the­ater, words come first. This explains why for cen­turies opera-goers have revered works writ­ten in lan­guages they do not speak,” even in a time before super­ti­tles. “As long as you basi­cal­ly know what is going on and what is more or less being said, you can be swept away by a great opera, not just by music, but by vis­cer­al dra­ma.” In order for that to hap­pen, you’ll need to see and hear much more than high­lights and great­est hits. And a lit­tle bit of con­text goes a long way.

If you don’t live in a major city or can’t get to the opera often, you can watch full-length per­for­mances online at projects like The Opera Plat­form, which not only includes filmed pop­u­lar operas like Verdi’s La Travi­a­ta, but also, as Col­in Mar­shall not­ed in an ear­li­er Open Cul­ture post, “pro­vides a host of sup­ple­men­tary mate­ri­als, includ­ing doc­u­men­tary and his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­als that put the month’s fea­tured opera in con­text.” If you’re ready to dig deep­er, how­ev­er, or are already a schol­ar of the form, or if you, your­self, hap­pen to be an opera singer, then you will absolute­ly want to vis­it the Opera Data­base.

The archival resource describes its pur­pose as three­fold:

  • To cre­ate a com­pre­hen­sive data­base of operas.
  • To cat­a­log arias and cre­ate PDFs from Pub­lic Domain sources, for the pur­pose of broad­en­ing the opera singer’s audi­tion reper­toire and seek­ing out rarely heard pieces.
  • To cre­ate a repos­i­to­ry for oper­at­ic infor­ma­tion, includ­ing libret­ti, scores, and syn­opses.

The drop­down menus on the homepage’s search field alone give you a sense of how expan­sive the data­base is—with dozens of lan­guages, from Ara­bic and Azer­bai­jani to Uzbek and Viet­namese, dozens of nation­al­i­ties, and thou­sands of entries from over four cen­turies. Most of these works will be unknown even to life­long opera lovers who have only lis­tened to the Euro­pean clas­sics. And sev­er­al famous mod­ern com­posers, like John Adams of Nixon in Chi­na fame, have shown how rel­e­vant the form still is for con­tem­po­rary con­cerns and cos­tumes.

All that said, only a por­tion of the entries have links to syn­opses and libret­ti. Search major titles like Nixon in Chi­na or Puccini’s La boheme and you’ll find pdf scores and libret­ti trans­lat­ed into sev­er­al lan­guages. Search any­thing more obscure than these block­busters and you’ll only turn up the most basic infor­ma­tion on the com­pos­er, nation­al­i­ty, and year of com­po­si­tion. Nonethe­less the Opera Data­base has some­thing for every­one, from the opera-curi­ous to the opera-adept, with a sep­a­rate aria data­base that allows users to search voice types from bass to sopra­no in twelve lan­guages.

Whether you’re look­ing to expand your knowl­edge beyond “kill the wab­bit” par­o­dies or expand your already advanced reper­toire of mate­r­i­al, you’ll find this online opera cat­a­logue offers a wealth of infor­ma­tion for bet­ter under­stand­ing an emo­tion­al­ly engag­ing, if endan­gered, cul­tur­al form.

via Nico­la Fred­do

Relat­ed Con­tent:

New Web Site, “The Opera Plat­form,” Lets You Watch La Travi­a­ta and Oth­er First-Class Operas Free Online

Stephen Fry Hosts “The Sci­ence of Opera,” a Dis­cus­sion of How Music Moves Us Phys­i­cal­ly to Tears

J.S. Bach’s Com­ic Opera, “The Cof­fee Can­ta­ta,” Sings the Prais­es of the Great Stim­u­lat­ing Drink (1735)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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