Skip to content
Home | What Language is Opera? The Melodic Linguistics of Opera

What Language is Opera? The Melodic Linguistics of Opera

Opera is a beloved art form that has captivated audiences for centuries. From grand opera houses to intimate concert venues, opera singers have been thrilling audiences with their powerful voices and emotive sung performances. One question that often arises is: what language is opera? The answer is quite simple; although Italian, French, and German operas tend to be the most popular, operas can be written and sung in any language.

Here are the languages of some of the most famous operas from the list of 10 most commonly performed operas in 2022:

  1. The Magic Flute is sung in German
  2. Carmen is sung in French
  3. La Boheme is sung in Italian
  4. La Traviata is sung in Italian
  5. The Marriage of Figaro is sung in Italian
  6. Tosca is sung in Italian
  7. Rigoletto is sung in Italian
  8. Die Fledermaus is sung in German
  9. Don Giovanni is sung in Italian
  10. The Barber of Seville is sung in Italian

The History of Opera Languages

The origins of opera can be traced back to the late 16th century in Italy. At the time, the Italian language was considered the language of culture and refinement. For that reason, it was natural that the first opera, Dafne, performed in 1598, was written by the librettist (the writer of the words in an opera) in Italian. As opera spread throughout Europe, other countries began to develop their own opera traditions and languages.

The Most Popular Opera Languages Today

Today, the most popular languages heard in popular opera performances are Italian, German, and French. There are, however, many many great operas in Russian, English, Czech, Spanish, Hebrew, and many other languages.

A performance of Stuck Elevator By Byron Au Yong and Libretto by Aaron Jafferis.

Italian opera is considered the foundation of the art form and is still widely performed in opera houses around the world. The Italian language is known for its lyricism and is well-suited for conveying the emotions of the characters and story. German opera, with its rich tradition and history, also continues to be popular. French opera, known for its elegance and refinement, is also widely performed, particularly in the works of composers such as Berlioz and Debussy.

The Impact of Opera Language on the Performance

The choice of language can have a significant impact on the overall experience of an opera performance. A librettist will often choose a language that best suits the characters, story, and emotions they wish to convey. For example, in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”, the use of German language emphasizes the fairytale-like nature of the story. While in the case of Janáček’s “Jenufa”, the use of Czech language highlights the opera’s strong connection to its Czech roots.

However, performing an opera in a language other than the original can also bring challenges for the performers and audience. Opera singers must be proficient in multiple languages to perform in different productions. Opera houses often provide subtitles in the audience’s native language to help them follow the story.

A singer from the opera Turandot.

The Future of Opera Languages

The future of opera languages is an exciting topic. As opera companies continue to experiment with different languages and cultures, opera in non-European languages is gaining popularity. In recent years, there have been successful productions of operas in Chinese, Finnish, and many other languages. This diversity in language and culture is bringing new perspectives to the art form and making it more accessible to audiences around the world.

The language of opera is not a fixed element, but an ever-evolving aspect of this art form. From its beginnings in Italian to the use of multiple languages today, the language of opera reflects the cultural and historical influences of the time. Whether you are a seasoned opera-goer or a curious newcomer, attending operas in different languages can offer a new perspective on this beloved art form.