Opera 101: 'Think of it as a pizza with everything on it'

CARMEN. Central City OperaWelcome to the DCPA NewsCenter’s new, ongoing series called ‘Get Arts Smart,’ a fun introduction to a variety of cultural forms through the eyes of experts from local organizations. First up: Opera 101. Your instructor is Tom Getty of Central City Opera, which is presenting ‘Carmen’ (perfect for newbies) opening July 8.


“Think of it as a ginormous pizza with everything on it.’

Tom GettyLook who’s talking: Today’s instructor is Tom Getty, who has been a pianist and coach for Central City Opera for more than 20 years. He was formerly on the staffs of Utah Opera, Anchorage Opera, Kean University Theater Department, Opera at Rutgers (University). He is currently music director of the Tyler Young Artist Program for Opera On The James in Lynchburg, Va.

So, what’s your deal, Tom Getty? As a coach, I help singers with role preparation, especially through musical phrasing and language pronunciation.  As surtitlist, I act as the liaison between the stage and the audience, and let people know what’s really going on up on the stage – and often, what the characters are really thinking.

Origin of the species: Opera started in Italy more than 400 years ago in an effort to revive the classical drama of the ancient Greeks. It was called “opera” because that’s the plural of the word “opus,” which means “work.”  So “opera” is “The WORKS” – a theatrical enterprise that can encompass any or all of the performing arts, including music, theatre, dance or visual arts.

Maria Callas sings the Ave Maria above. 

Maria_Callas _200Your greatest dead rock star: Closer to our own time, the greatest is undoubtedly the great Greek-American soprano Maria Callas.  She brought the utmost dramatic conviction to her roles and revived the old “bel canto” operas that had become stale, proving there was plenty of dramatic life in them yet.   The voice was unlike any other before it  – or since.  She was glamorous and temperamental – the essential ingredients for a Diva with a capital D. Catch her in the second act of Puccini’s Tosca.  It’s pretty hot. 

Jonas_Kaufmann 200Your greatest living rock star: Tenor Jonas Kaufmann breaks all the vocal rules: He has a rich, dark voice that can sail effortlessly up to ringing high C’s, which makes him perfect for the most dramatic roles in opera.  He’s also incredibly good-looking – yes, I’m jealous – and an excellent actor on stage.  The title role of the doomed poet in Massenet’s Werther is one of his signature roles, and it can be sampled online. Just be prepared to get mighty depressed. (It’s one of those operas…)

Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton won the Cardiff Singer Of The World competition, and for good reason.  It’s a warm, beautiful, communicative voice, with an incredible technique that can take on big, dramatic roles like Verdi and Wagner and still spin out delicate, refined musical lines and fast, clear passages such as the bel canto composers Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini). She can probably sing any mezzo role in the repertoire.

Bill LewisWho’s the biggest deal from Colorado? For me, the biggest deal in opera who comes from Colorado – Denver, to be specific – is the pianist and voice coach Bill Lewis.  He brought me to Central City. A protégé of the great and formidable John Moriarty (the living patron saint of Central City Opera), Bill has a huge repertoire that encompasses both opera and musical theater.  Having taken coaching and singing lessons from him, I can say first-hand that he offers wonderful support and encouragement, and his musical suggestions border on genius; he also plays the piano like a demon. 


Or: Who sings notes that only a dog can hear?

Word 1A solo for one singer, usually reflecting the character’s state of mind.  “I love her!” “I hate him!” “I’m crazy!” “I’m tired!”

Word 2The act of singing a long string of many notes on one syllable, usually at a fast pace.  Essential for all voice types in the works of Handel (mostly because the text is so repetitive).  A coloratura soprano is a light-high-voiced lady who specializes in these passages. She is sometimes capable of sailing up to high notes that only dogs can hear.

Word 3The sung dialogue part of an opera, usually accompanied by a few chords from a keyboard, but sometimes punctuated by the orchestra.  The operas of Mozart and Rossini use this device ad nauseum to help carry the plot; with the operas of Handel, it’s the only thing that carries the plot.  Since things can get wordy, it can take hundreds of supertitles to get through a performance. (See below.)

Word 4The much-dreaded but necessary part of the rehearsal process leading up to the bows and bravos on opening night. During Tech Week, the entire production moves from the rehearsal hall to the actual stage, where all the layers of production such as scenery, costumes, lighting and the orchestra are finally added. Things get adjusted, crises are averted, and everyone manages to live happily ever after – except for those characters whose demise is an integral part of the plot.

Word 5Also known as Surtitles, Supertitles are now standard for any opera company the world over. Translations are projected onto a screen either above the stage, on the side, or on the seat of the person in front of you so that the audience can easily follow what’s happening on stage.  In the case of a comedy, like The Barber of Seville, supertitles also can tell the audience when to laugh.  This kind of audience manipulation arguably makes the supertitlist the most powerful person in opera. (I love my job!)

What is the biggest stereotype about your field:
“I don’t know Italian! (Or simply insert your foreign language of choice.) Not anymore, you don’t!  Thanks to supertitles, all you need to know will be translated on the screen for you.  It’s just like watching a foreign film … except it’s live… and there’s a lot of singing.

How is your opera different from other opera? Part of Central City Opera’s mission is to bring world-class performances of new, standard and neglected works to its audience in an intimate setting. The Central City Opera House is indeed intimate, and the acoustics are so good that the singing is in your face even in the far corners of the balcony. Plus, the Central City Opera House (and, consequently, the company) have a history in Colorado that can be traced all the way back to the great Gold Rush in 1858. By experiencing a performance in the Central City Opera House, the audience becomes part of Colorado history in the making.  How cool is that!?

Let’s play trivia: Did you know that the famous overture to The Barber of Seville is actually from two different operas?  After the disastrous first performance in 1816 (the audience was rigged), composer Gioacchino Rossini replaced the original overture with the 1815 overture from Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra (Elisabeth, Queen of England) which was, in turn, recycled from Aureliano in Palmira (1813).  This is why none of the tunes in the overture occur in the opera itself.  (Extra points for pronouncing everything properly.)

What would be my perfect introduction to opera? Carmen, by Georges Bizet. Filled with dazzling orchestrations and familiar tunes, Seville’s favorite party girl finally meets her match – with fatal consequences. We are presenting Carmen in repertoire from July 8 through Aug. 6 at the Central City Opera House.

Lastly, finish this sentence, Tom Getty: I love opera because …
… it shows all of the incredible things the human voice can do; it’s also the biggest, grandest form of theatre imaginable!

CENTRAL CITY OPERA/Summer festival season

  • Carmen by Georges Bizet: July 8-Aug. 6 at the Central City Opera House
  • Così fan tutte by W. A. Mozart: July 15-Aug. 4 at the Central City Opera House
  • The Burning Fiery Furnace by Benjamin Britten: July 26-27; Aug. 2, at the Martin Foundry
  • Cabildo by Amy Beach: July 26 and 29; Aug. 2, at the Williams Stables, Central City MAP IT
  • Gallantry by Douglas Moore: August 3-4; also (with Cabildo) on July 26 and 29; Aug. 2; at the Williams Stables MAP IT

CENTRAL CITY OPERA/Ticket information
: The Opera House is located at 124 Eureka St, Central City, 80427 MAP IT
: centralcityopera.org
Box office
: 303-292-6700
: @ccityopera
: @ccityopera





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