Understanding Opera

1 day, 9:30 am - 4:30 pm

Opera mask

Opera has been described as a merging of all forms of art: music, literature, poetry, storytelling, dance, costumes, painting for scenery, sculpture for set design, and of course drama. This opera course provides a guide to the appreciation and enjoyment of opera for the beginner, as well as a deeper exploration of the elements of opera for the more experienced listener. We explore the forms and structures of opera, considering the work of composers such as Mozart, Wagner, Verdi and Puccini, and listening to performances by some of the great singers.

Course Outline

Session 1: What is Opera?

  • Puccini: “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot
  • The Elements of Opera
  • Types of opera: Opera seria and opera buffa
  • Acts, scenes and numbers
  • Overture, recitative, aria, ensemble, chorus, intermezzo

Session 2: Telling Stories Through Music

  • From story to libretto to opera
  • Arias, ensembles and choruses
  • How stories are told through music
  • Mozart: Don Giovanni
  • The aria as soliloquy
  • Puccini: “One Fine Day” from Madama Butterfly

Session 3: The Operatic Voice

  • Listening to Opera
  • What a great operatic voice needs
  • Trills, ornaments and decorations
  • Comparing vibrato
  • Soprano, Mezzo, Contralto, Tenor, Baritone, Bass
  • Castrati
  • Counter tenors
  • Trouser roles
  • Lyric and dramatic: Voice types for characters

Session 4: Listening to Some Great Voices

  • Some great women singers
  • Melba
  • Sutherland
  • Callas
  • Other great women singers
  • Some great male singers
  • Caruso
  • Pavarotti
  • Domingo
  • Other great male singers


“Very informative, well presented. I enjoyed the diversity of presentation including multimedia input. Susan’s presentation is friendly and enjoyable” - Christine, Kirribilli

“I enjoyed the course very much. I think the content was interesting and just detailed enough without being too detailed. Thought the book was excellent and will definitely use it for reference later. Level and pace suited me” - Lindy, Darlinghurst

“For me this is all a steep learning curve. All of the sessions have been informative” - Naomi, Croydon Park

“Excellent and entertaining. Great multimedia presentations. The parallel translations were particularly enjoyable and added another dimension. I learned a great deal” - Heather, Randwick

“Excellent! As a true beginner to opera the course really gave me a good start. Enjoyable – accessible to newcomers to opera. Excellent structure and notes. Tutor managed the various levels of knowledge and experience of opera within the group in an excellent way (important to encourage beginners). Thankyou”

About Susan Deas

Susan Deas is a professional musician, lecturer and teacher. She has been teaching music appreciation courses for more than twenty years, through Sydney University's Centre for Continuing Education, WEA Sydney and at other venues. Her training includes a Bachelor of Music with a major in Performance (Piano) and Musicology, a Master of Music Studies (Studio Pedagogy), a Bachelor of Arts (Communications), and an A.Mus.A in Musicianship. Susan teaches piano and music theory to adults and children, and plays piano and organ at various venues around Sydney. Susan is an accredited piano teacher and musicianship teacher, and is on the Council of the Music Teachers’ Association of NSW.

More about Susan's qualifications

Read what people have said about Susan's other courses

Susan's other music courses