Staging Italian Opera

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Course Information
Terms offered: 
Fall, Spring
Language of instruction: 
Contact Hours: 


Additional student cost: 



The final objective of the course is to learn hands-on how to stage an opera, and will culminate in the performance of an opera at the end of the semester. The course is open to all students and does not require acceptance into the Music Program. Once enrolled in the course, students will split into groups to work on the various parts of the process, including performing, creating costumes and sets, lighting and sound, and advertising. Students will also work to create a critical/analytical text on the opera, to be presented in the form of program notes for the final performance.

The course will focus on all of the following aspects:

  • History, libretto, musical form and structure of the score
  • Theory of melodrama, the genres and drama in the opera
  • Sets and communications
  • The production of a lyric opera

With the collaboration of the teachers of other courses (Voice, History, Ensemble), the vocal cast and orchestra members will be prepared to perform.

Prior to each term, the teachers of the IES Music Program will select an opera from the Italian repertoire with the following characteristics:

  • A famous Italian opera
  • The possibility to perform the whole opera, with or without the contribution of Italian students
  • It must also be possible to conceive the staging of the opera with simple costumes, sets and lights
  • String quartet, piano and other accompanying instruments
Attendance policy: 

Regular class attendance is mandatory. Students are expected to attend classes each day, including course-related excursions.

IES Abroad Milano allows a maximum of TWO excused absences per semester. Each further absence will automatically result in a penalty of two points off (2/100) on the final grade. SEVEN absences per course (including 2 excused absences) will result in a failing grade for that course. Furthermore, an absence on the date of scheduled tests, presentations or quizzes does not entitle you to recover/reschedule such tests. Failure to attend your midterm and/or final exam will result in an F grade on that paper/exam.

Learning outcomes: 

This course will expose all students to a vivid contact with the actual making of an operatic work, through the development of several necessary steps of cultural awareness, historical research, musical as well as literary analysis, production, organization and performing skills.

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Memorize and perform a score of an opera in a foreign language (singers)
  • Understand a score in detail, including its historical background
  • Create sets and manage lighting and sound for a performance
  • Advertise an opera and create a program
  • Write a critical text on an opera, analyzing the score, the musical forms and the meaning of the words and music in their historical context.
  • The overall quality of the performance will be proportional to the skills, quality and commitment of the students enrolled.
Method of presentation: 

The course will be a mixture of lectures, slides, listening, and videos in the first, theory-focused part of the course. In the second part, much more time will be given to in-class performance, hands-on laboratories and workshops, attendance to targeted professional performances and theatrical rehearsals in Milan, as well as the final rehearsals.

Required work and form of assessment: 

Active participation (30%); Midterm exam (20%); Lab & Workshop (30%); Final Performance (20%)

All of the students enrolled in the course will attend lessons on the theory and history of the chosen opera and on the production of an opera in general. These are the topics that will be tested on the Midterm Exam and which must be included by the students in their final critical text for the final performance. All students will participate in the staging of the opera. Singers will be chosen to play the lead roles and to take part in the choir. Other students will take part in the creation of sets and costumes, as well as the flyers and programs advertising the performance.  The students’ work to put on the opera as well as the quality of the final performance will form the basis of the final performance grade.


Classes begin before the beginning of the other Area Studies courses and continue throughout the semester with two hours a week in the morning (on Tuesdays T at 11.30am: M) (26 hours).

The remaining contact hours (18 hours) will be concentrated in 7 evening rehearsals (E at 8.30pm) in the second part of the course, and will be dedicated to the labs on making costumes and sets and to the practicing of the opera. These hours also include a final dress rehearsal in the afternoon (A at 6.00pm) and the final performance in the evening of December 10.

Week Number Content:
(X=The selected Italian Opera to be staged)
Readings & Assignments
Week 1

1.   Introduction to the Italian Opera in the XIX c.ry: a

      short history

from Grout’s  p. 409-419; 
Week 2 2.   Genre and Style: features of Donizetti’s Operas from Parker’s p. 177-186
Week 3

3.   Plot and synopsis of X (1); linguistic aspects of the


from Smith’s p. 191-203; X libretto (Ita-Eng) from MacMurray’s ; 
Week 4 4.   Plot and synopsis (2); Musical/Textual analysis (1) Score excerpts from X Arias and Duettos (1) 
Week 5 5.   Musical/Textual analysis (2); Musical score analysis (1) Score excerpts from X Arias and Duettos (2)
Week 6

6.   Musical score analysis (2), including diction, metrics,   


Score excerpts from X Arias and Duettos (3)
Week 7 7.   Review  
Week 8 8.   Midterm Exam  
Week 9

9.   Staging an Opera (Intro): A Totality of Symbols

10. Work on storyboard and texts for the drama

11. Costumes and scenes lab 

from Donington’s p. 3-19; from Goldovsky’s p. 393-397
Week 10

12. Staging an Opera (1): opera ads and communication

13. Rehearsal and labs

14. Rehearsal and labs 

from Goldovsky’s p. 273-280, 363-369
Week 11

15. Staging an Opera (2): costumes and scenes

16. Rehearsal and labs

17. Rehearsal and labs

from Goldovsky’s p. 369-378
Week 12

18. Staging an Opera (3): lights and multimedia

19. Rehearsal and labs

20. Rehearsal and labs

from Goldovsky’s p. 378-392
Week 13

21. Staging X Opera: Overview

22. Dress Rehearsal

      Final Performance



Required readings: 
  • Each student must own the libretto, the vocal score (and the full score if composer) of the selected Opera
  • Coursepack prepared by the teacher and uploaded to Moodle, consisting of critical, up-to-date articles and bibliography related to the selected subject (i.e.: synopsis and analytical essays in English from the Program Booklets published by the main opera theaters in the World for the most meaningful productions) and excerpts and abstracts from:
  • Jessica M. MacMurray (Editor), The Book of 101 Opera Librettos (Ita-Eng), Black dog & Leventhal Publishers Inc. 1996
  • John S. Allitt, Donizetti, Element Inc. 1991
  • Robert Donington, Opera and its Symbols: the unity of words, music and staging, Yale Univ. Press, 1992
  • Boris Goldovsky, Bringing opera to life: operatic acting and stage direction, Prentice-Hall, 1968
  • Donald Jay Grout, A Short History of Opera, Columbia University Press, 1988 (3rd ed.)
  • Roger Parker,  The Oxford illustrated History of Opera, Oxford University Press 1994
Previous Course Name: 
(formerly Tutti all'Opera)