Virtual field trip To THE OPERA!

Follow this interactive learning map to learn more about opera, the story, the composer and the characters.

Join Michaela, our virtual field trip tour guide for cool information about opera! Michaela is a music education student from Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville who will help to explain all about opera! Just click play to listen!

What is Opera?

An opera is a dramatic work where the story is told through singing and music. Opera is a genre within classical music, along with symphonies and ballets.

Opera is really old! Opera originated in the end of the 16th century, which is over 400 years ago.

It takes a lot of people to put on an Opera. Singers, instrumentalists, dancers, costume designers, set designers, stage crew, lighting experts, and a conductor all work together.

Opera started in Europe, but can be found everywhere around the world today.

What makes up an Opera?

Here are some of the components of opera:

Singers and Performers

The Orchestra and Conductor

Sets and Lighting


Fun Fact: The Phantom of the Opera is not an opera!

Have you heard of The Phantom of the Opera? It is a musical about an opera.

Musicals actually come from operas. About 200 years ago, people started adding dialog to operas, which are called "Operettas," which eventually evolved into modern day musicals. So you could think of Opera as musical's grandparent. Operas, operettas and musicals are all performed today!

Opera is all about the music!

Operas are written by a Composer

It all begins with the composer. The composer writes the music, often working with a librettist who writes the lyrics. Lyrics are the words of the music! Together, they create the opera. Then, the music gets printed and published as a score, which is what singers and musicians look at to sing and perform the music.

An opera and its musical score are divided into sections, made up of an overture, arias, recitatives and choruses, and more:


An overture is an orchestral piece played at the beginning of the opera.

Acts and Scenes

After the overture, the singing begins! The score is divided into acts, which are divided into scenes. Most operas have 2 acts with an intermission in the middle.


An aria is a solo song sung by one of the characters.

Duets, Trios and Group Numbers

Musical numbers where multiple characters sing together. Duets have two singers, trios have three singers, quartets, have four, quintets have five, and it goes on!


Between arias and group duets or trios, characters have conversation - singing conversations! These conversations are called recitatives, which connect the arias and other musical numbers together.

(This is a tough one to understand, BUT fun and where a lot of the action happens!)


The chorus is a group of singers who act as ensemble characters, such as unnamed supporting characters, servants or party guests. They give the story context and are a lot of fun!


Some composers include a full ballet within an opera, so that dancers can express part of the story.


Because operas are so long, composers give the audience a break to chat with their friends and talk about their favorite parts. This is the intermission.

Curtain Call and Final Bows

At the end, the audience gets the chance to cheer and applaud the performers who bow to show their appreciation to the audience, while the audience cheers and claps. This is your moment to shout "Bravo" for men, "Brava" for women, and "Bravi" for the group!

Who can sing in an Opera?

Everyone! There are voice teachers everywhere ready to help train those who are interested in singing. Opera singers come from all over the world!

Shown above: Opera Edwardsville's 2019 "Christmas at the Wildey" Opera, featuring singers and musicians from Edwardsville, St. Louis, Chicago and Scotland.

Where can you listen to Opera?

Anywhere and everywhere. Opera is happening all over the world!

Check out these cool places where you can see and hear opera:


Watch videos on YouTube or listen to opera on Spotify.


Like Opera Edwardsville at the Wildey Theatre in Edwardsville.

In Big Cities

Like nearby at Opera Theatre of St. Louis, and all over the world in cultural cities like New York, Milan, London, Moscow, and Paris.

At Famous Opera Houses

There are many famous opera houses around the world.

At Opera Festivals

Opera can happen outside, too! Festivals are held around the world in really surprising places like farms, neighborhoods and parks.

In Cartoons

You can even see operas in cartoons, like Bugs Bunny!

In fact, opera is all over pop culture

Cartoons, movies, and more have featured opera! Here are some examples:

The Muppets

The Muppets perform the famous "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen.

Miss Piggy wants to sing opera!

Renee Fleming, known as "The People's Diva" joins to muppets to teach them to count.


Disney's Fantasia features the "Dance of the Hours" from Ponchielli's opera La Gioconda

Mozart's "Sull'aria" in Shawshank Redemption

Pixar's UP features the overture to Bizet's Carmen as part of the old man's morning routine.

Bugs Bunny & Friends

"Be Vewy Quiet" is based on Richard Wagner's epic operas in The Ring Cycle

Bugs bunny conducts an operatic Tenor

"The Rabbit of Seville" based on Rossini's The Barber of Seville


Costumes inspire fashion, and fashion inspire costuming for opera, like this runway show for Dolce and Gabbana.

The Simpsons

Homer Simpson who, after gaining the ability to sing opera following an accident, becomes a professional and famous opera star. There’s a catch, however: Homer must sing while lying on his back for his voice to sound operatic. Guests stars include Plácido Domingo as himself and Maya Rudolph.

Sesame Street

Denyce Graves sings Elmo to sleep with a melody from Bizet's Carmen, along with an operatic zoo.

Marilyn Horne, a famous mezzo sings about cookies!

Famous Recordings

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong perform "Summertime" from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess

Nina Simone performs "Summertime" from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess

Fun Fact: The St. Louis Muny first performed operas!

For those near Edwardsville who have been to the The St. Louis Muni in Forest Park - The Muni is over 100 years old and used to perform operas. Today, the Muni still performs musicals and shows.

What are some famous operas?

Here are some examples. Have you heard of these before?


This famous opera is about a fiercly independant woman named Carmen. The opera is sung in French and was written by composer Georges Bizet in 1875.

La Boheme

Giacomo Puccini wrote this Italian opera in 1896 about a group of free spirited bohemians, crafting one of the most beautiful and heart-breaking operas of all time.

The Ring Cycle

The Ring Cycle is made up of 4 serperate operas and takes almost 20 hours to watch from start to finish! Some might say this is the Lord of the Rings of opera. These operas are sung in German and were composed by Richard Wagner in 1857.


Giacomo Puccini’s ‘Turandot’ is a dramatic tale of violence, tyranny and love and is also the opera for which the composer wrote the now famous aria, ‘Nessun Dorma.' The opera was first performed in 1926 in Milan.


The Three Little Pigs!

Where did the music for this opera come from?

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote every song in this opera!

Who is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?

Mozart was a Classical composer who was born on January 27, 1756 in Salzburg, Austria and died on December 5, 1791 at the age of 35.

He was child prodigy having success as a child pianist and violinist. He was a professional musician by the age of 17 and composed more than 600 works.

Who will be singing in the opera?

Meet the three little pigs and the wolf who will be singing for you, and learn what their voice type is.

Despina is a soprano

Cherubino is a tenor

Don Giovanni is a baritone

The Wolf is a mezzo

Do you know the story?

The story begins with three little piggies being sent out into the world by their mother, to "seek out their fortune". The first little pig builds a house of straw, but a wolf blows it down. The second little pig builds a house of sticks, which the wolf also blows down:

Wolf: "Little pig, little pig, let me come in."

Piggies: "No, no, by the hair on my chinny chin chin."

Wolf: "Then I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll blow your house in."

The third little pig builds a house of bricks, which the wolf can't blow down! The wolf then attempts to come down the chimney, but falls down and it doesn't end well for him....

Next, let's take a look at one of the most popular songs in this opera:

The Queen of the Night aria!

Mozart actually wrote this song for a different opera, The Magic Flute.

What happens in The Magic Flute?

  1. A handsome prince sets out on an adventure to rescue a damsel in distress.

  2. He takes with him a cowardly, but good-natured bird catcher who is more interested in finding a wife than seeking adventure.

  3. Along the way, the prince meets the Queen of the Night, who is evil, but the prince doesn't know that!

  4. The prince, birdcatcher, and damsel in distress must trust in the power of music to lead them to safety.

In the original opera, this song is sung by the evil 'Queen of the Night.' Fitting, right? But in The Three Little Pigs opera that you watch, the Wolf sings this aria. The Queen of the Night sings this song in a fit of rage, as she tries to force her daughter to kill a man. But in The Three Little Pigs opera that you watch, the Wolf sings this song as they are trying to trap and kill the pigs.

Why is this song in The Three Little Pigs opera?

Remember, all of songs in The Three Little Pigs the opera were originally composed by Mozart and are found in his operas. At one point in the opera, Wolfgang Bigbad sings about how the three little piggies will never escape his clutches once he has them...

Why do you think the Queen of the Night Aria was selected as a song for the Wolf to sing?

Because the Queen of the Night is evil and so is the Wolf!

Before you watch!

This is an operatic version of the story. The performance takes about 25 minutes, is sung in English, has spoken dialog to connect the music, and is performed by four singers and one pianist. A full team of designers created and directed the performance!

The Sets

You should also know that lots of the story takes place at the library, which our designers modeled after the Edwardsville Public Library and the Centennial Monument in Edwardsville, Illinois.

The sets were designed by Roger Speidel, and built and painted at the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville's scenic shop. If you visit the Edwardsville Public Library, you can see the sets on display!

Ready to watch the opera?

Thanks for going on our Virtual Field Trip to learn more about opera.

We hope you enjoy the show:

Special Thanks

This Virtual Field Trip was developed in partnership with the SIUE Music Education Department.

Special thanks to Dr. Alicia Canterbury and Michaela Davis for their contribution to this project, and to the Edwardsville Rotary Club for their generous funding of this project.