Music Theatre – Style
Musicals are essentially plays with musical items. Unlike opera, which is sung throughout, Musicals therefore combine spoken dialogue with sung items of various kinds as well as other musical contributions. In a typical music theatre production, you would expect to find the following sort of musical items:
An Overture or ‘curtain raising’ music, possibly making reference to main themes to be found in musical items later in the show.
Solo songs, for the main characters to sing. These will often feature the most memorable melodies of the show.
Ensemble numbers, which might be very similar in nature to solo songs above, but will involve two or more characters in conversation (perhaps including recitative), or sharing a main melody.
Chorus numbers, involving the members of the chorus. There may be small solo sections either for main characters or bit parts for chorus members to play momentarily. Chorus numbers often start or finish an act or production.
Entr’acte material, is music which is intended to cover changes of scene &/or personnel on stage. Such material is often short, based on music heard earlier in the show, and which can be repeated at the discretion of the conductor for as long as the on-stage changes need to take.
Dance numbers, are sometimes stand-alone items in a production, or form part of a sung number (see 1-4 above). Often chorus members double up as a dancing troupe, but some more lavish productions may have a separate group of dancers.
The Singing Style
The Singing Style found in musicals differs from opera in that the singers in music theatre are essentially actors who sing and opera singers are singers who act (though there are, of course, exceptions to this). Both kinds of singer are highly trained over many years. Opera singers tend to have a greater degree of projection and usually perform without amplification, whereas music theatre singers nearly always use head mics. Opera singers sometimes cross over into music theatre, but music theatre singers rarely cross over into opera.
Musicals are always performed in the language of the country (or the vernacular) in which they are performed. Opera is often performed in its original language with translation possibly provided (usually in print or electronically).
The Music style in musicals tends to draw more on popular and lighter styles of writing, whereas opera scores tend to draw more from the classical music traditions. Generally speaking, music theatre composers come from a song-writing background, whereas opera composers’ other works tend to be in other classical genres like symphonies, concertos and overtures.