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1. a type of play performed by singers and an orchestra
a. connected with, consisting of, or performing in opera
2. opera considered as an art form

Origin and usage

The word opera is from the Latin word ‘opus’ meaning ‘a work’. As a form of music, opera was first mentioned at the end of the 16th century. By the 1640s, the word opera had come to mean a dramatic play in which all the lines are sung.


Opera refers to a play performed entirely by singers and an orchestra, where every line is sung instead of spoken. Opera has also come to mean the specific type of music and singing required to perform these plays.

There are many different kinds of opera singing voices, each one with its own unique characteristics. Some opera singers can hit very high notes, while others train their voices in a middle or lower range. An important part of composing an opera is deciding which voice type best matches each character. Men and women have different opera voice classifications.

Jacopo Peri wrote the first opera in Italy in the late 16th century and music history is full of famous historic opera composers like Handel, Mozart, Rossini, Wagner, Verdi, Bizet and Puccini. Modern composers like Benjamin Britten, Hans Werner Henze and Philip Glass have continued the tradition of writing operas.


“An opera begins long before the curtain goes up and ends long after it has come down. It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I’ve left the opera house.”

(Maria Callas)

“I wonder anybody does anything at Oxford but dream and remember, the place is so beautiful. One almost expects the people to sing instead of speaking. It is all like an opera.”
(William Butler Yeats)

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary

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