Learn new opera terms for your next Scrabble game!
Opera – the art form – draws from many different languages for its music and its terminology, making the language of opera rich with high scoring words. Because some are Italian, others French or German, they may not appear in a standard dictionary or scoring tool. But, if you can agree they’re legit in your game, you can wrack up some serious points.
As we count down to LA Opera’s upcoming season, we’re rolling out a word a week. with its definition. We’ll collect them here. If you’ve got a good one you’d like to share , show it to us and tell us how you scored.
Get ready to impress your friends!
ARIA (4 Scrabble points) – Italian- An aria is an operatic solo, accompanied by music. Similar to a monologue in a play or a solo in a musical, an aria is the truest expression of a character’s desires and soul; it’s an outpouring of emotion often occurring when a character is most vulnerable. Watch Plácido Domingo sing Canio’s aria, “Vesti La Guibba” from Ruggero Lenocavallo’s Pagliacci.
BUFFO or BUFFA (9 Scrabble points) – Italian – Have you ever had a good laugh at the opera and wondered how to describe it? Look no further than the word “buffo” or “buffa,” which translates to “funny.” It’s used in opera a few different ways. The term “opera buffa” refers to a whole genre of Italian operatic comedies, such as “The Barber of Seville.” A “basso buffo” is a low-voiced male singer specializing in humorous roles like Benoit and Alcindoro, the two nemeses who provide much-needed comic relief in “La Boheme.”
CABALETTA (13 Scrabble points) – Italian – A cabaletta is a feature of Italian opera common in the first half of the 19th century. The fast, final section of a two-part aria, a cabaletta is animated, lively, and memorable. Think the end of the first act of Verdi’s La Traviata, when Violetta sings “Sempre libera.”
CADENZA (19 Scrabble points) – Italian – A cadenza is an elaborate section (sometimes improvised) towards the end of an aria that allows the singer to really showcase what their voice can do, like the below “Flute Cadenza” in Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor.
CAVATINA (13 Scrabble Points) – Italian – Cavatina is a short operatic aria in simple style without repeated sections. Norma’s famous aria “Casta diva” is a classic example of this. Short and simplistic or long and melodic, Norma’s incredible cast will surely blow you away.
COUNTERTENOR (13 Scrabble points) – Latin – A countertenor is the highest, adult male voice type in opera. Countertenor parts are common in Baroque opera (watch Anthony Roth Costanzo sing “Stille amare” from George Frideric Handel’s Tolomeo below) but they also gained an increased popularity in the mid to late 20th century with the works of Benjamin Britten and Philip Glass. The title character in Akhnaten, which opens at LA Opera in November as part of the 16/17 season is a countertenor part.
DIVA (8 Scrabble points) – Italian- while its popularly used to describe someone’s attitude, in opera, diva refers to a woman of outstanding talent in the world of opera. It’s a compliment, not a dig.
PARLANDO (11 Scrabble points) – Italian – Parlando literally means “in speaking style” and refers to the moment when singers used technique to bring singing close to speaking. In other words, singers will sound like they are speaking, but using the rhythm and/or inflections used for singing. A famous example of this is mid-way through the famous aria, “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s Tosca (which returns next season starring Sondra Radvanovsky).
QUINTET (16 Scrabble points) – Italian– It simply means a group of five people. In music, you can have many kinds of quintets: a string quintet, an orchestra quintet, and yes, even an opera quintet. Here’s a sample of a quintet from LA Opera’s production of The Magic Flute, presented in co-production with Minnesota Opera.
SINGSPIEL (12 Scrabble points) – German – A singspiel, which literally translates to “sing-play” is a German comic opera that mixes spoken dialogue with singing. Singspiels are folkloric in nature, often having fantasy elements. If you are slightly more inclined towards musical theater, then singspiels are the opera genre for you. Famous singspiels include Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio (coming next season) and The Magic Flute (though our current production has taken out the dialogue).
SITZPROBE (22 Scrabble points) – German – A sitzprobe is a special rehearsal for an opera or musical theater production, when the singers and orchestra meet to rehearse together for the first time.
This is a “seated rehearsal” (taken as a literal translation from German) and does not incorporate props, costumes, or staging. It often times does not even take place on the stage. We can’t wait to hear the sitzprobe for Gianni Schicchi/Pagliacci from our office this week!
TESSITURA (9 Scrabble points) – Latin – Where is your voice most comfortable? Do you find yourself singing high notes easier than low notes or are low notes your bread and butter? The answer to these questions is what’s called tessitura in the music world. This refers to the best-sounding and most comfortable range for a singer, or where the general range of notes in a vocal role tend to lie. Coincidentally, this week teams from several arts, cultural, and entertainment organizations have converged on Florida for The Tessitura Network conference. If you’re there…let us know.
VERISMO (22 Scrabble points) – Italian – Verismo literally means “realism” or “truth.” It is a genre of opera made famous by Puccini, Mascagni, and Leoncavallo in the late 19th century – think cinema’s Italian neo-realism movement, but for opera.
VOX (13 Scrabble points) – Latin – Vox is the Latin word for “voice.” It may only be three letters, but don’t be deceived by its small size. Your opponent has no chance of advancing you, when you get these 13 scrabble points. Also, we would like to dedicate this word to the talented group VOX, who sang on last night’s episode of America’s Got Talent with LA Opera singers David Castillo and Arnold Geis. This is only the beginning; the journey continues…
WANDELPROBE (19 Scrabble Points) – German – Like a sitzprobe, this means the orchestra and singers are rehearsing together for the first time with one small difference. Instead of just singing, there is some staging/blocking involved. Picture Captain Ahab singing along to the orchestra’s music and walking the stage in peg-leg, because Moby-Dick’s wandelprobe is coming up this Saturday!
ZARZUELA (16 Scrabble points) – Spanish – This saucy term refers to a Spanish comedic opera, where characters can jump from spoken to sung scenes. While we know there aren’t two Z’s in Scrabble, feel free to pull out that blank tile. Zarzuela is the perfect word to steal the game.