Understanding Opera


'An exotic and irrational entertainment'. Samuel Johnson's definition of opera may have a grain of truth to it, but there is much more to opera than this. At its best, opera tells a story in which the emotions are conveyed with heightened intensity through the music.

This course aims to give students an understanding of the elements of opera - dramatic and musical structure and characterisation, production and performance quality. Each of these aspects will be explored through case studies of operatic masterpieces. The last four weeks of the course will be spent applying these concepts to a selection of operas from different countries and periods.

Programme details

Week 0: An Introduction to Teams

Week 1: Dramatic structure and characterisation

Week 2: Case Study: 'Le Nozze di Figaro' - Mozart

Week 3: Musical structure and characterisation

Week 4: Case Study: 'La Traviata' - Verdi

Week 5: Production and Performance

Week 6: Case Study: 'Giulio Cesare in Egitto' - Handel

Week 7: 'Carmen' - Bizet

Week 8: 'Peter Grimes' - Britten

Week 9: 'Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg' - Wagner

Week 10: 'Eugene Onegin' - Tchaikovsky


Background Reading:

Fred Plotkin, Opera 101: A complete guide to learning and loving opera

Parker, The Oxford Illustrated History of Opera

Amanda Holden, ed., The Penguin Opera Guide



Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.


Description Costs
Course fee £220.00
Take this couse for CATS points £10.00


Miss Claire-Louise Lucas

Claire-Louise Lucas is a professional mezzo-soprano and a part-time music tutor. She lectures on opera and song for Oxford University Department for Continuing Education.  She has lectured on singing in conservatoires and other universities in the UK and the USA.

Claire-Louise has performed extensively throughout Britain, Europe and the USA, including an appearance as a soloist in the Salzburg Easter Festival with Maurizio Pollini and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Claudio Abbado.  Other recent performances include concerts at Gloucester Cathedral; Christ Church Cathedral; Salisbury Cathedral; Southampton University; the Leominster Festival and the Brighton Festival. 

Course aims

To give students a greater, all-round understanding of opera.

Course Objectives

1. To analyse the dramatic structure and characterisation in opera libretti.

2. To relate the dramatic structure and characterisation to the musical structure and characterisation.

3. To evaluate production and performance quality.

Teaching methods

Each topic will be illustrated by audio and video extracts, scores and opera texts. There will also be live demonstrations by the tutor.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

1. To identify the main elements that form Opera.

2. To demonstrate how a story is told in music on the operatic stage.

3. To be able to evaluate production and performance quality.

Assessment methods

Assessment will be through the medium of 4 worksheets that will assist the students to consolidate the knowledge that they have gained in class.  Students will also have the option to write an essay or undertake a project, the nature of which will be discussed in class.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form.


Each course will close for enrolments 14 days prior to the start date to allow us to complete the course set up. We will email you at that time (14 days before the course begins) with further information and joining instructions. As always, students will want to check spam and junk folders during this period to ensure that these emails are received.

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)