What is Recitative?

RECITATIVE: A term with far-reaching significance across the history of opera, recitative refers to a type of vocal utterance that can be characterized as song-speech. It is derived from the Italian verb that translates as “to recite” and is meant to capture the gestures of the spoken word. Recitative is understood in contrast to the more tuneful and reflective mode of arias and ensemble pieces, in which texts are often repeated. Recitative may be sung against a very basic harmonic structure, with accompaniment provided by a single keyboard or bass instrument, in which case it is called “secco,” or “dry.” As opera developed over the course of the 19th century, recitative accompaniment became more colorful and was enriched by the addition of the orchestra (this is sometimes called “recitativo accompagnato”). In time, the strict division between recitative and aria became blurred as composers sought to capture a more naturalistic and dramatic style of vocal delivery.