6 Things You Didn’t Know About Opera

Today is National #OperaDay and it got us thinking about the history of opera. So we found out 6 interesting things you may not have known about opera…

Die Meistersinger von NŸrnberg - by Richard Wagner, at Metropolitan Opera, season 06-07 premire March 1, 2007

1) The term “opera” comes from the Latin opus, or “work.” The term “soap opera” was first recorded in 1939 as a derogatory term for daytime radio shows that were sponsored by soap manufacturers.

2) The famous proverb “the opera ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings” in reference to buxom Brunhilde’s 10-minute aria at the end of Wagner’s Ring cycle operas is usually attributed to pro basketball coach Dick Motta, who in turn attributes it to San Antonio sportswriter/broadcaster Dan Cook, who says he overheard a friend say it.

3) During the seventeenth century, women were not allowed to sing onstage, not even in a chorus. Castrated males, or castrati, would sing the soprano/mezzo/alto parts. The first of the great castrati was Baldassare Ferri (1610-1680). He was so famous that the town’s people met him three miles outside the city and filled his carriage with flowers.

The Magic Flute

4) Opera composers would sometimes hire a group of people to cheer their works or boo the works of their rivals. This group was called a claque (clapping) and was common at European opera performances.

5) The first performance of Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly was one of opera’s all-time worst flops. The audience made bird, cow, and goat calls and booed. Madama Butterfly, however, became one of the best-loved operas in history.

6) The most frequently performed operas are La bohème, Tosca, La traviata, Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), Carmen, Don Giovanni, L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love), Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), Aida, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot.


Operas have been captivating audiences since the sixteenth century, but in recent years they have become much more accessible. It’s no longer something a bit too far away, a bit too ‘London’ or a bit too high culture, Opera is now right on our doorsteps, right here at The Courtyard.
Frankenstein ROH Live

The development of Live Screenings has meant that we can screen live theatre, opera, ballet and more from across the world, including Aida, live from Sydney and regular offerings from the Met Opera in New York.

Prices for these Live Screenings are a fraction of the price of going to see live opera, with fantastic names such as Manon Lescaut, Madama Butterfly and Giselle. The Royal Opera House are even screening an operatic version of Frankenstein.

These Screenings can be a great first step into opera, that’s not too expensive. And whilst they can never replicate the same experience as sitting in the theatre, they retain something of the feeling of live performance and a real sense of event.

So, why not?