By Chris Bicourt.
 

If I told you samba was opera, would you think I was mad?

 

When we talk about carnival in samba, we aren’t just talking about an event – we’re talking about a culture, a whole year of preparation, and the reason the samba schools exist. It is such a unique thing. The carnival parade is more than just a show. It’s a story, with a beginning middle and an end. Each year LSS chooses a theme. This theme, which works like a plot, is what informs all the various aspects of the parade: music, dance, costumes, the choreographies, the song, the floats etc. How on earth do you explain this to someone who’s never seen it, or is just starting? Try calling it a ‘mobile Opera’.

 

Today in Brazil, the artistic vision of a samba school’s carnival parade is the brainchild of it’s carnavalesco – their ability to visualise and bring together all the artistic aspects of a theme is unsurpassed. To be a carnavalesco requires an incredible understanding of samba, a samba school, and samba carnival. But what if I told you the first carnavalescos came from the Opera? Well, it’s true! They brought with them a professionalism, and a knowledge of the theatrical arts, especially costume and set design, which has led to them being held directly responsible for turning the samba schools into ‘the greatest show on earth’. Before the carnavalescos, samba carnival was a more modest affair, and looked down upon by the authorities and the establishment as something vulgar, crude, and amateurish. But with the arrival of the carnavalescos, they soon took note!

 

There are some differences: in samba, we all sing together, at once, and we also have ‘puxadores’ – the main people who lead the singing. But even with these differences, the similarities are striking; let’s take a look…

 

Samba Opera Comparison
ENREDO SCRIPT This is the thread that ties everything together. We translate it as theme, but it literally means ‘script’. Not a big step to see how they both serve the same purpose.
SAMBA DE ENREDO SCORE Essentially the soundtrack, which plays throughout the show!
BATERIA ORCHESTRA The bateria provide the musical accompaniment to the entire parade. The orchestra provides the music to the opera.
MESTRE DA BATERIA CONDUCTOR Needs no explanation!
FLOATS SETS One and the same, except in samba, they move, hence ‘mobile’ Opera. And in both, the performers stand on them!
ALAS ACTS ‘Alas’ mean ‘wings’ in English, and are the sections of the parade. They are assembled in such a way that the costumes tell the story of the theme, usually in a sequential fashion – like the Acts of an Opera!
DESTAQUES MAIN CHARACTERS Every Opera has it’s main characters, who move the dramatic narrative along. This is why it is essential that the destaques in a samba parade represent the theme.
DANCERS/DRUMMERS aka “COMPONENTES” THE CAST Or supporting cast. When we talk about the people in a samba parade, the correct Portuguese term for them is “componentes” (literally, ‘components’). They are the equivalent of the actors and actresses that serve as the cast of an Opera.
RAINHA DA BATERIA PRIMA DONNA The first lady!
STEWARDS / HARMONIA STAGE HANDS In samba, they move the parade along, making sure no gaps open up in the dramatic narrative. In the Opera stage hands ensure the smooth progression of the plot by moving the set and props on and off the stage and making sure the actors and actresses are able to perform without any hiccups!
CARNAVALESCO DIRECTOR Both are responsible for bringing their vision of the script (or theme in samba’s case) to life through all the various artistic elements.

 

And let’s not forget, both are specific mediums, with their own traditions, and things that must exist, or happen, in order to be called by their name. Just as rap has to rhyme, samba has to have it’s famous percussion (as well as bikinis, feathers and sequins), and Opera has to have a certain style of singing.

So you see, next time someone asks you what Brazilian carnival is all about, tell them about the ‘mobile Opera’!


All are welcome to come and parade with us, and to most people it is just a fantastic party, a great experience, even a once in a lifetime opportunity. But to those that keep coming back year after year, the notion of what a samba parade is, and what carnival means, reveals a whole depth of multi-faceted aspects that make it a much richer experience than is often seen on the outside. And that’s without talking about how great it is to be part of such a passionate community!

Visit our carnival pages to find out more about how to get involved (click here)