Learn Italian through Opera in simple steps

Learn Italian through Opera

Music lover? Then you can learn Italian through Opera, the quintessential Italian musical genre. 

Italy is the cradle of innumerable representatives of the bel canto from Caruso to Pavarotti. So, if you are studying Italian you may be interested in learning more about Italian for singers and Italian for musicians.

Some basic terms to keep in mind:

Universally, when you need to play it with little or nearly imperceptible intensity, the indication is to play it piano, and even pianissimo (extremely subtly) if the sound is only to be sensed. This is called dinamica (dynamics).

However you, as a compositore (musician who writes music) or direttore d’orchestra (orchestra conductor) may decide to go for the forte (the opposite of piano) and even fortissimo (the opposite of pianissimo). 


The pace is important. You can set the battiti per minuto (beats per minute, BPM) using a metronomo (metronome). An ally for some musicians, despised or dreaded by others, we firstly find the metronomi meccanici (the traditional, wood-like-click sounding wind-up ones). Today there are beeping rather than clicking devices (metronomi elettronici), which provide you with the possibility of using a pair of headphones, which come in handy especially if you are a pianist, a percussionist, or a drummer (in some ways, i pianoforti – the Italian name for pianos- are considered, also, part of the percussion instruments).

As you set the rhythm rate, you also set part of the mood.  

If a tune is slow and moody, you are playing an adagio. If your audience is comprised of people who have had a lot of trouble to fall sleep, or it is a very solemn occasion, you could also make it molto adagio (veeery slow). 

Keep in mind it could be far slower than this: largo, and even larghissimo (BPM under 20).

If faster, but not speedy, it’s going andante (at a walking pace, about 76-108 BPM, while you can still breathe).

When music is a tad bit enthusiastic, you are playing it the allegro way (fast and furious, I mean, bright) and then vivace (when it’s lively). It can be molto vivace or vivacissimo.

And then it can go presto and prestissimo, when we’re no longer walking but sprinting.

As you know, we speak of Italian opera because it is very unique, but we also know that opera was born in Italy and soon spread across Europe, becoming an important part of the Western classical music tradition. 


Opera is what happens when you bring together a compositore and a librettista (a person who writes words, or lyrics, to be sung along with music in the form of a theatrical representation) and put them all on a palco (stage), preferably La Scala di Milano. Generally, there is a large gathering of musicians set up by type of instrument, l’orchestra (a considerably large ensemble).

Learn Italian through Opera

It originated at the end of the 16th century. Opera has walked side-by-side with the musical trends of their times: thus, there are baroque and neoclassical forms, going through the Wagnerian revolution –which was the first kick-in-the-bottom for harmony–, then Schönberg’s atonal experiments and even minimalism. 

The invention of the radio and TV has led not only to live and recorded broadcasting of opera, but also has led to write music that had those media in mind. Don’t forget that! Let’s continue to learn Italian through Opera by getting to know some features and instruments. 


An aria, which is a self-contained piece within an opera’s mainframe, can be heard every now and then. There are also concert arias (in Italian, however, the plural for aria is arie and the diminutive arietta), which are composed to let some singers display their vocal abilities.

Orchestras are set up by type of instrument. The instruments can be:

Strumenti ad arco (for the string section):

Italian nameEnglish translation
Violino violin
Chitarra guitar
Basso bass guitar
ContrabbassoDouble bass

Strumenti a fiato (brass section): 

Sax / Sassofono Sax / saxophone
Bassotuba / Tuba tuba

STRUMENTI A FIATO (Woodwind section):

Flauto flute
Clarinetto clarinet

Strumenti a percussione (percussion): 

Tamburo rullante snare drum
Tom-tomTom drum
Grancassa bass drum
Timpano kettledrum

Strumenti a tastiera (keyboard instruments)


There are also electronic instruments, that took longer to be experimented with and used in classical music but, nowadays, you know that many colonne sonore (movie soundtracks) are composed and recorded using electronic instruments and PCs.

So, these Italian lessons are good not only to learn Italian through Opera, but so much more about music. If you’re passionate about this, we hope you enjoyed it!

Do you want to learn more about Opera? Don’t miss Italian opera. Why is it sung in Italian?

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