You’re at the opera house. You open the program book or you’re listening to the opera snobs talk, and you can’t understand a word — or at least some words. To get a handle on what they all mean, check out the following list:

aria: An emotion-expressing song in an opera; the big number. opera buffa: Funny opera, especially from the 18th century.
bel canto: A style of sweet singing, taught to singers even today, that emphasizes breath control, a beautiful tone, and great flexibility in dynamics (going from loud to soft, for example). opera seria: Formal, serious opera, especially from the 18th century.
cadenza: A moment near the end of an aria for the singer alone, with lots of fast, high, difficult notes, designed for showing off. prima donna: The singer who plays the heroine, the main female character in an opera; or anyone who believes that the world revolves around her.
coloratura: A singer (usually soprano) with an extremely agile, light, pure-sounding voice, capable of easily singing fast, high notes. recitative (“ress-it-uh-TEEV”): Speech-singing, in which the singer semi-chants the words, imitating the free rhythms of speech.
dynamics: The loudness or softness of a musical composition, or the markings in the sheet music that indicate volume. Singspiel (“SING-shpeel”): A German opera with spoken dialogue (instead of recitative) between arias.
Leitmotif (“LIGHT-mo-teef”): A little melody that plays every time a certain character or object appears; invented by Richard Wagner. trouser role: A man’s part played by a woman.
libretto: The script of an opera. verismo: A realistic, “documentary” style of opera that depicts the seamy underbelly of life.