Ed Reicin: Opera Terminology

Professional opera singer Ed Reicin has performed in multiple productions throughout his career. A fan as well as a participant, Ed Reicin recognizes that opera may seem daunting to those who have never attended. Like every special interest, opera has its own special language. In order to make the genre more accessible, Ed Reicin offers the following information about opera terminology.

1. Libretto: Just like modern songs, opera compositions have two parts: music and lyrics. An opera’s libretto is the lyrics, written by a librettist.

2. Aria: A solo piece in an opera sung by a single vocalist; main characters typically perform arias.

3. Vocal range: Opera singers have a range of notes that they perform. For instance, a bass sings the lowest notes while a soprano sings the highest. The main categories include bass, baritone, tenor, alto, and soprano, although distinctions exist in each vocal range. For instance, a basso profondo has a very deep bass voice, while a contralto tends to be the lowest female voice.

4. Pants role: When a woman plays the character of a young boy with a high voice, it is called a pants role or a breeches role.

5. Overture: Before the opera, and sometimes at the beginning of each act, the orchestra plays an introduction that sets the mood and often incorporates musical themes the audience will hear throughout the act or entire work.

6. Recitative: Sometimes in opera, characters will “speak” in a singing voice, moving through dialog quickly.

7. Leitmotif: A musical theme to represent something else, such as a character, idea, place, or a state of mind. Wagner was particularly well-known for incorporation of the leitmotif in his operas.

8. Prima donna: The term for the lead female singer in an opera.

9. Grand Opera: A long production with several acts, this type of show features a large cast, complex staging, and dancing.

By Edward E. Reicin


Ed Reicin on Giuseppe Verdi

Professional bass opera singer, Edward Reicin, has performed roles in many noted operas by well-known composers such as Mozart, Puccini, and Verdi. In one such performance at L’Opera Piccola in Chicago, Illinois, Ed Reicin played the role of Pistola in composer Giuseppe Verdi’s final opera, Falstaff. Best known for his operatic compositions, Verdi wrote 26 operas throughout his career, resulting in music that remains popular and highly recognizable in modern day. For instance, even nonopera lovers recognize “Libiamo Ne’ Lieti Calici” (The Drinking Song) from La Traviata, and others may recognize “La donna e mobile” from Rigoletto, which is a popularly used theme in modern media.

Influenced by earlier composers such as Rossini and Donizetti, Verdi sought out stories and libretto that highlighted his musical gifts, leading to classic operas, which retain a place in many opera companies’ regular rotations and remain popular more than a century after his death. Popular works include Rigoletto, based on Victor Hugo’s Le Roi s’amuse; La Traviata, based on the Alexandre Dumas, fils, novel, La Dame aux Camélias (The Lady of the Camellias); Don Carlos, a five-act French Grand Opera; Aida; and Otello, based on the Shakespeare play Othello.

By Edward E. Reicin

Edward E. Reicin: Enjoying Opera Performances

As a professional opera singer in the Chicago area, Edward E. Reicin has performed in many well-known operas such as Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. The accomplished bass received classical music training and demonstrates a passion for the medium. In recent times, opera has earned a reputation for being highbrow and difficult to follow. This precursor to today’s musical theater still provides an enjoyable pastime, and Edward E. Reicin offers the following tips for people new to the experience of opera.

1. You do not have to speak Italian, German, or French to understand opera. Many opera companies now offer supertitles of the libretto (words to the opera) on displays above the stage. Reading the supertitles throughout the performance may help you better follow the story.

2. Before going to your first opera, familiarize yourself with the story. Many websites offer synopses of well-known operas. If you know the plot before going, you will be better able to follow the action.

3. Although the lyrics contribute to the story, the music and staging tell the whole tale. Try not to get so caught up in listening for words that you ignore the spectacle of music, action, and set design. Often, composers use music out of character with lyrics to communicate something about that character, such as inner conflict or deceit.

4. Operas vary based on composer, period, and subject matter. Just because you do not enjoy one opera does not mean you will not enjoy others. You can find comedy, tragedy, love stories, lightheartedness, and heavy-handedness, depending on which opera you attend. Try several performances before deciding how you feel about the genre as a whole.

5. Mozart operas are often quite accessible and enjoyable. Since many people enjoy and recognize Mozart’s music, his operas make good starters. You might also enjoy 20th century opera, such as George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, or Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors.

Porgy & Bess “Summertime”

Edward E. Reicin on Indigent Prisoners

In the United States, indigent prisoners comprise just under half of all inmate populations and, in some areas, have become the overwhelming majority of convicts. In order to qualify as an indigent prisoner, an individual must have little money—the exact amount varies by institution—in their prisoner accounts. This is often the result of familial nonchalance or lack of relatives with supportive resources. Many indigent prisoners attempt to obtain prison jobs in order to buy items from the commissary, making competition fierce and pay low. Generally, prisoners make only a dollar a day, if that. Indigent prisoners receive the basic necessities from their correctional facility, but these staples never last long.

Until recently, the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) charged indigent prisoners for their healthcare. Although the co-payment was only two dollars, this small amount still placed an undue burden on thousands of inmates who were unable to pay. If the inmate had no money, the charge remained on the books to be collected if and when he or she earned money or a family member deposited money into the prisoner account.

Only a few years ago, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in Hadley v. IDOC that this charge is unconstitutional according to the language of the law requiring healthcare co-payments. According to the court, the law makes indigent prisoners exempt. This, however, is only a small victory in an ongoing battle. Indigent prisoners increasingly have access to assistance outside of their correctional facilities. For examples, the University of Illinois College of Law operates a Prisoners’ Rights Research Project, through which indigent prisoners may ask questions about their legal problems. Students then conduct the necessary research, sharpening their legal skills and augmenting their knowledge of the American corrections system while providing indigent prisoners with an invaluable pro bono resource.