Five Great Operas Everyone Should Know (…even if you don’t like opera)

University of San Francisco

Clifford (Kip) Cranna is Dramaturg Emeritus and Scholar in Residence of San Francisco Opera, where he served on the staff for 40 years. In 2008, he was awarded the San Francisco Opera Medal, the company’s highest honor. Dr. Cranna holds a Ph.D. in musicology from Stanford University and teaches opera appreciation at the University of San Francisco, State Francisco State University, Dominican University, and the University of California at Berkeley.



Curious about opera?  Are you hoping to become more familiar with this grand and glorious art form, but you’re not sure where to start?  Let San Francisco Opera’s Kip Cranna take you on a guided video tour (with subtitles) featuring a few of his favorite masterworks of international opera: five time-tested hits.  We’ll start with two iconic staples of the Italian repertory: Mozart’s famed drama Don Giovanni and Puccini’s beloved La Bohème. Then, on to France for Bizet’s ever-popular Carmen, and to Germany for Wagner’s epic and romantic Die Walkure (The Valkyrie). We’ll finish our journey here at home with “The Great American Opera,” George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.  No previous opera experience is necessary. Just watch, listen, and enjoy.


Recommended Reading:

Opera 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera, by Fred Plotkin

A Song of Love and Death: The Meaning of Opera, by Peter Conrad

History of Opera, by Stanley Sadie

Also, here is a good online resource for learning about opera:


Discussion Questions:

  1. Why did Florentine intellectuals in the late 16th-Century develop the new art form that we now call opera?  What were some of their aims and motivations?
  2. What is meant by the term “trouser role” or “pants role?”  Why did this tradition develop?  What is the distinction between a trouser role and a castrato part?
  3. What is meant by the term bel canto?   How does it relate to Romanticism?  Who are the best-known composers in this style?  What are some of the most famous bel canto operas?
  4. What is meant by the term verismo?  What famous composers wrote in this style, and what are their most famous operas?
  5. When an opera is being written, which comes first: the words or the music?  Why?




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Absolutely delightful presentation

Professor Kip Cranna provides a basic yet enlightening hour for we non opera people, perhaps opera people as well.. Although we have seen several operas we are novices the genre , Prof. Cranna provided short but careful explanation of parts of each opera which brought to life the way we should listen and appreciate this classic form.

1 year ago
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