I hear some people talk about singing as something that is extremely connected to speech. Some even say that we must first begin with the speaking voice before we start to sing.

I did an interesting exercise with a singing teacher. We talked to eacher but used the singing voice. It reminded me of something I heard in opera or the singing of the Passion story at church.

What they refer to happens in Cosi fan tutti, I think:

At 2:15:00 you will hear something that sounds like speaking while singing. I did something similar with my teacher (but I only sounded like a beginner). What is this thing that they do in Cosi fan tutti?

2 Answers 2


The term you may be looking for is recitative.

Recitative is intended to follow the accents and rhythms of normal speech. In this way it sounds less like a melody and more like a musical conversation in the middle of a scene. It's often used to move the drama forward in an opera (by presenting important new information, etc.), but this isn't always the case.

Lastly, it's often accompanied by occasional harmonic punctuations. Much as how recitative moves the drama forward, these punctuations are often pretty modulatory, meaning the recitative moves the music forward, as well.

  • Is recitative what singing teachers refer to when they talk about beginning with the speaking voice before singing? what is the definition of modulatory?
    – user20754
    Nov 15, 2020 at 16:15
  • @Hank By "modulatory" here, I mean that something changes keys ("modulates") more frequently than we might in, say, an aria.
    – Richard
    Nov 15, 2020 at 16:16
  • wikipedia say this about modulation: In music, modulation is the change from one tonality (tonic, or tonal center) to another. So in recitative you change the tonic a lot?
    – user20754
    Nov 15, 2020 at 16:18
  • 2
    @Hank That's exactly right. Arias in this style of opera tend to stay more or less in one key (that is, with a single tonic note). But a modulatory recitative will suggest one tonic note for a few measures, but then a new chord will enter that suggests another tonic note, and then another new chord will enter a few measures later that might suggest yet another tonic note, etc.
    – Richard
    Nov 15, 2020 at 16:20

Yes, this is 'recitative'. A very common device in through-composed opera. Some styles of Musical Theatre are plays with songs - in-between the musical 'numbers' the story is told in normal spoken dialogue. Opera prefers to set the dialogue to music too! But a lyrical aria is better suited to illustrating an emotion than to progressing the plot! You can tell a lot of story in a few bars of recitative, then settle back as the characters tell us how they feel about it in beautiful song!

Sometimes a composer doesn't know when to stop being lyrical, blurring the distinction between recitative and aria. You may consider this produces hours of seamless sublime music, the pinnacle of operatic art. I tend to get punch-drunk, and eventually nod off. So shoot me!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.