How do opera singers get their music? Are all the vocals and parts in a single book of some kind and all the singers get that book, or is it sheet music for each part, or does each role have its own book? What are these books called?

Also, I would guess that the access to these books is tightly controlled, because they would be printed only in small quantities so the publisher would have to charge a lot for them to be profitable. How does the distribution system for the vocal music work? Does an opera company have to "rent" the music books from some special publisher and then give them back when the production is over?

Also, if the music is "rented" then how does an aspiring opera singer get music to practice with? For example, let's say I want to try out for the part of Don Pedro in Don Giovanni, so I want to learn that role. How would I get a copy of the music without being in a production?

  • There are conductor's full scores & others for each part. As far as I'm aware you can 'rent' any part, or the whole thing, or even borrow them from the library. There would also be versions for voice & piano, so you don't need the whole orchestra to practise with. (this is a comment not an answer because it's not a world I operate in)
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jan 6, 2021 at 13:59

3 Answers 3


Singers could use the full score if they wanted to. Normally they use a so-called vocal score which has all the vocal parts and a piano reduction of the orchestra (used for rehearsals). For some works still under copyright the vocal scores are sold and for others they are rented out and tightly controlled, everybody has to return their score at the end of the production. Possessing a vocal score doesn't give someone the right to perform the work, that has to be licensed separately. For works not under copyright the vocal scores can often be downloaded. Sometimes excerpts from the vocal score are prepared: the chorus might have a chorus book containing just the scenes they are involved in.

Here's an example of what a vocal score looks like (the beginning of Act II, Scene II of Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde", the famous love duet): enter image description here


Opera singers get books called "Vocal Scores" that contain the libretto (lyrics) and melody for each character. It also includes music for a piano accompaniment. Often, opera singers learning a part will not sing with the full orchestra until very late in the process, often only once or twice (during a dress rehearsal) right before the performance.

Here's my Don Giovanni vocal score which contains libretto in the original Italian as well as a not-so-great English translation. Vocal scores can be found an purchased online fairly easily and cost from $40-$80. Note, that the same opera will have different arrangements out there. Don Giovanni will have several different vocal scores out there of various quality (I mean arrangement quality and copy editing, not quality of the physical book itself) and cost. Don Giovanni vocal score Don Giovanni vocal score


Yes. They are all in a single huge spiral-bound book usually typed out by stage managers. You will then have to go through and post-it note all the parts that you are involved with. Rarely will you just be given your parts, you will have the entire score.

They are indeed tightly controlled but the performers are usually trusted with this without the need for extra measures. It's similar to a film script - it's the responsibility of the actor to keep it secret and keep it safe.

  • 3
    Stage managers don't type out vocal scores.
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Jan 6, 2021 at 14:15
  • @PiedPiper Often, during early rehearsal periods things change. How would they be able to communicate these changes effectively without having it there ready to adjust? Rehearsal rooms are not packed with thousands of people waiting for a script change.
    – cmp
    Commented Jan 6, 2021 at 14:19
  • 2
    In the case of the first production of a brand new piece, any changes to the score will be made by the composer, arranger, orchestrator, copyist or conductor (or their assistants). Stage managers have a totally different job, although they might be responsible for handing out the changes to participants.
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Jan 6, 2021 at 19:07
  • You might have a point if we are talking about 1850. Are we? Brand new pieces do not sell out auditoria.
    – cmp
    Commented Jan 6, 2021 at 20:31
  • 1
    @cmp the size of the expected audience is not relevant to the question of who produces vocal scores for a newly composed opera. It's not the stage managers.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 7, 2021 at 0:44

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