I sometimes hear people being refer to as "an actor and operette singer". Many actors, especially in the early 20th century, who were good singers sang operette. Many people who do not even have classical voice training have sung operette. How is singing operette different from singing opera?

  • My brother commonly refers to America's Got Talent competitors as "singing opera" regardless of whether they're actually singing songs from operettas instead. It's possible that the only difference between the two is the ease of auditioning successfully for operettas.
    – Dekkadeci
    Sep 6, 2020 at 13:15
  • @Dekkadeci I expect that in the early 20th century more people would have been more keenly aware of the differences.
    – phoog
    Sep 6, 2020 at 16:07

2 Answers 2


How is singing operette different from singing opera?

Operetta (note that the English word comes from Italian, not French) and, later, musical theater, are less demanding. The songs may be musically simpler, but more importantly they tend to require less vocal stamina. The opera orchestra tends to be bigger. Operatic tessitura tends to be higher. Operas are sung completely, or nearly so, while operetta typically has spoken dialogue.

Accordingly, fewer people develop the vocal technique and stamina required for a successful operatic career than those required for a successful career in operetta or musical theater. (Furthermore, through the 20th century, musical theater has evolved along with popular styles, moving towards singing techniques appropriate for electronic amplification.)

There have been examples of people performing successfully in both spheres, of course, and none of these differences are absolute.

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    Another loose generalization is that opera focuses on highlighting the human voice; whereas, musical theater highlights the presentation of a character.
    – Aaron
    Sep 6, 2020 at 16:46
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    @Aaron maybe. I would argue that music and character development are both present in both forms, but they manifest themselves differently. For example, a professor in grad school had us examine the proposition that one defining characteristic of opera is that music advances the plot independently. Few operatic arias are meaningful without the context of the character singing it.
    – phoog
    Sep 6, 2020 at 16:51
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    @Aaron yeah, it's an interesting question. One thing that made an impression on me was Leonard Bernstein's conclusion that West Side Story was a musical rather than an opera because he couldn't find a way to make an aria for Maria work in the last scene.
    – phoog
    Sep 6, 2020 at 17:06
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    "while operetta typically has spoken dialogue": Many operas have spoken dialogues (Der Freischutz C.M. Weber, Die Zauberflöte W.A. Mozart). Sep 6, 2020 at 20:49
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    @CasimiretHippolyte strictly speaking, those are examples of Singspiel, a distinct form with a different history that is closer to that of operetta than opera.
    – phoog
    Sep 6, 2020 at 21:06

Opera-singers are primarily singers and then actors, while the singer in an operetta is primarily an actor who is also singing, he doesn’t need to have a perfect trained voice like an opera singer has.

Not every singer of an operetta will be able to sing and play in an opera, but every opera singer should be able to sing an operetta, with his trained or natural voice.

The operetta singer uses his trained voice like his natural voice like an instrument of an actor. The opera singer - in the opera - mostly uses his trained voice like a music instrument.

The operetta is standing nearer to musicals.

  • I have heard that many opera singers are in fact not that good at operetta.
    – user20754
    Sep 9, 2020 at 17:58

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