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jaytkay's avatar

What is the difference between opera and musical theatre?

Asked by jaytkay (25790points) April 12th, 2015

I’m no expert or even aficionado of either genre.

But I’ve always thought Mozart, Rossini and Verdi would be perfectly happy on Broadway.

Today I read this NY Times piece that make the claim:

“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.”

I’m not buying it. I bet audiences in China and France would love West Side Story with subtitles or a detailed printed program.

What do you think?

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9 Answers

elbanditoroso's avatar

I think it is a very very blurry line. Take musical classics such as Les Miserables, Sound of Music, Evita, Music Man, Mama Mia, etc. Each of them has a story line (a plot), some angst, characters with conflict, etc. There’s precious little difference between them and an ‘traditional’ opera, with the exception that the musicals were written since 1920, and most operas were not.

Bill1939's avatar

I think that most musical do not follow the structure of classical opera. “Porgy and Bess” might be an exception and there may be others.

Strauss's avatar

Simply put, in opera, the text (libretto), stage blocking, dancing (if present) are all there to support the music. Musical theater, the music, dancing, etc, are there to support the dialogue.

@Bill1939 …“Porgy and Bess” might be an exception…
To be sure, “Porgy and Bess” is one musical that is very often mentioned when comparing the two genres, but still, IMHO, there is dialogue, and the music, wonderful as it may be, is there to support the dialogue and story line.

Blondesjon's avatar

The difference is around $300 a ticket.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I think every one of the answers above is right on the money (no pun intended @Blondesjon) in fact the line is so blurry, that all it would take is for a major opera house to mount performances of a musical for it to acquire the necessary “seal of snobbery”.

jaytkay's avatar

all it would take is for a major opera house to mount performances of a musical

I asked the question because I was listening to the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current production of Carousel on the radio.

A little video

Strauss's avatar

There is a trend in the opera house industry to produce musicals. To some, this might indicate that the line is blurring between the two genres. IMHO, not necessarily @stanleybmanly‘s “seal of snobbery”, though. It’s not about snobbery or quality, as much as the definition of the genre. In the same way, would it blur the lines between “jazz” and “classical” if a symphony orchestra were to present a program that consisted of jazz, especially if it included composers the likes of, for example, Count Basie, Ornette Colemen, Winton Marsalis (or any of his siblings), or any number of contemporary jazz composers.

The SO stated: I bet audiences in China and France would love West Side Story with subtitles or a detailed printed program.

Bernstein was one of those known to blur and cross the line. The music from West Side Story was also arranged into a ballet suite, so at that point the lyrics did not matter. The story was expressed in ballet/dance, so there was no longer a reason for the lyrics.

stanleybmanly's avatar

But that’s the point. it is difficult if not impossible to define the line separating the 2. Taking Bernstein to task, Why is Candide an opera while West Side Story is not?

jaytkay's avatar

I assumed Carousel (and they’re doing The King and I next year) was a way to bring in audiences who wouldn’t come to an opera. They have the theatre, the orchestra, the set and costume designers, the chorus – why not do some extra shows?

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