Teacher’s Corner: by Ania Hejnar

The holidays bring an array of beautiful musical performances.  From Christmas concerts to Musicals to Oratorio and Opera, this time of year and the music it brings can provide a really special emotional and spiritual journey.  The stories displayed in Oratorio and Opera have their own special quality.  But what exactly is the difference between Oratorio and Opera?

Both Oratorio and Opera are methods of musical expression which can answer to many different emotions. There is a difference between the two however. An Oratorio is a large musical work that includes an orchestra, mass choir,  soloists.  Similar to an Opera, the Oratorio does include the use of soloists, choristers, characters (plot), an ensemble, and music accompaniment.  The difference is Oratorio is more often than not performed in concert format, where there is rarely any staging required or memorized music for all musicians.  There are also no props or costumes in an Oratorio and the orchestra is often visible as part of the performance.  Another important difference between the two is the Oratorio’s subject matter which often deals with sacred topics appropriate to perform in the church.  Protestant composers wrote about Bible, where as Catholic composers took plot examples from Saints as well as Biblical settings.

An Opera idealizes the theatrical stage with music and distinguished characters.  There is often an orchestra, but many times hidden in the pit of the stage.  The characters have an array of costumes and there is a painted set to represent different locations of the plot.  Operatic plots tend to include historical events and mythology; subjects with romance, comedy, murder, and deception.

Whether it’s enjoying an inspirational Opera of The Christmas Carol, or Handel’s Messiah, both Oratorio and Opera can bring out many different emotions to an audience member.  They can both be touching, comedic, melancholic, and devastating, but regardless the taste of the listener, the musical expression they convey are always rewarding.