Opera refers to a dramatic art form, originating in Italy, in which
the emotional content or primary entertainment is conveyed to the
audience as much through music, both vocal and instrumental, as
it is through the lyrics. From the beginning of the form (about
1600), there has been contention whether the music is paramount,
or the words, a theme that Richard Strauss took up in his final
opera, Capriccio (1942). Also, dramatic speech in opera is often
sung in recitative. By contrast, in musical theater, dialogue is
spoken and an actor's dramatic performance is generally more important
than in opera.
Comparable art forms from various parts of the world, many of them
quite ancient in origin, exist and are also sometimes called "opera"
by analogy, usually prefaced with an adjective indicating the region
(for example Chinese opera). However, other than superficial similarities,
these other art forms developed independently from and are completely
unrelated to opera but are art forms in their own right, not derivatives
The drama is presented using the primary elements of theatre such
as scenery, costumes, and acting. However, the words of the opera,
or libretto, are customarily sung rather than spoken. The singers
are accompanied by a musical ensemble ranging from a small instrumental
ensemble to a full symphonic orchestra.