Support us

An opera ‘urban dictionary,’ part 1

Opera is an art form that comes with its own vocabulary. Coloratura, tessitura, passaggio, heldentenor, zwischenfach, bel canto, spinto… the list of special terminology (mostly borrowed from Italian, German or French) goes on and on. The New Grove Dictionary of Opera provides helpful definitions of those official terms, as does the Opera America glossary. But there are a few terms that get thrown around in online discussions, especially on Twitter, that you’re unlikely to find in any formal compilation.

Here are some that I’ve noticed or that have been suggested by operatic Tweeters:

  • Mezzosexual—Someone who is attracted to mezzo-sopranos when they’re playing trouser roles. The term is typically used when this is contrary to the person’s usual sexual orientation.
  • Barihunk—A hunky baritone. There’s an entire blog devoted to them.
  • Approximatura—Coloratura of questionable rhythmic or tonal accuracy.
  • Zwischy—Short for zwischenfach, a term used to describe a female singer who is somewhere between a mezzo and a soprano.
  • Squealo—Squillo is the metallic, ping-y ‘edge’ on sound, especially favored by tenors. Sometimes it gets too squeal-like.
  • Hunkentenor—Jonas Kaufmann. Possible also any other devastatingly attractive, dark-voiced tenor. (thanks to @hertsandminds)
  • Parterre—The main US-focused opera gossip site. Lots of good analysis and inside information, plus a terrifyingly opinionated and often-catty group of commentators.
  • Buttery biscuit baritone—‘They’re more refined, sophisticated, mature, and subtle than barihunks, but still hot.’ (thanks to @stenoknight)



Feel free to suggest additions in the comments, or to tweet them to me (@ilana_wb). I’d love to make this list more complete!

ov