Hamilton: Musical or Operetta?

When it comes to theater performances, music plays an integral role. You can call a theatrical play without music. However, if you combine it with orchestra, it adds a new level of depth, intensity and emotional pull. Both Opera and Musical have been widely popular genres for many years. Hamilton is part of the discussion because many people are classifying it as Operetta rather than a Musical.

Let’s first explore the difference between a Musical and an Opera.

Opera vs. Musical

Operas are classical performances that comprise entirely of music. In opera, the music comes before the story, and the dialogue is merely a means to convey the plot. This genre of performance tells stories almost entirely through song. It is an immersive experience that envelops audiences in an entirely different world.

On the other hand, Musical theatre tells a story primarily through dialogue, and music serves as a complement to the conversation. Musical performances usually include dance, songs, and acting. It uses music as a vessel to drive the story further and express emotions. The music comes secondary to the plot.

Is Phantom of the Opera an Opera?

Many people categorize Phantom of the Opera as an opera. However, while it does have a lot of singing, it is more accurately classified as a musical. Phantom of the Opera features a grandiose score, but it also has spoken dialogue between musical numbers — breaking the tradition of an Operatic performance.

Is Rent an Opera?

Rent is a classic rock musical that is not an opera. Like Phantom of the Opera, Rent also has spoken dialogue between songs. Its music is in the style of popular rock music, whereas opera usually has a classical orchestra. In Rent, different songs convey different characters’ emotions, and the songs and dialogue combine to tell a story, notably musical in nature.

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Sung-Through Musical vs. Opera

Sung-through musicals are often confused with Operas because the entire story is conveyed in song form. However, the music used in Sung-through Musicals is still largely in the musical theatre style. The music is present as a complement to the story— not the primary Storytelling vehicle.

What Style Genre is Hamilton?

Hamilton is a unique performance that contains both traditional Hip Hop, R&B and Pop music on top of a more classical sound system. The score sets itself apart from other readily recognizable Musicals and Operas. While the music does convey character emotions, it is still a supplement to the spoken word, making Hamilton classify more as a Musical rather than an Opera or Operetta.

Is Les Misérables an Opera or an Operetta?

Les Misérables is a sung-through musical, and its music is significantly more traditional than that of Hamilton, which makes it easier to classify. Despite the lack of dialogue in Les Mis, it is not an opera because it relies on song and dance to tell its story, similar to Musicals.

Opera Definition

In summary, Opera performances rely entirely on music and typically convey a story in an immersive way through song. Alternatively, the dialogue is used to convey the characters’ defining personality traits. Opera adheres to the classical music and is presented through a symphony orchestra and defined by the depth and breadth of the score.

Is Hamilton a Musical or Operetta?

To classify Hamilton as an Operetta, the score would need to be the primary way the story is conveyed. However, this is not the case because Hamilton uses spoken dialogue throughout the performance.

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Hamilton is a musical that blends genres, telling the story predominantly through dialogue, with music serving as the subsidiary means of conveying anger, love, and tension.

Is Hadestown an Opera?

Hadestown tells a classic story of Orpheus and Eurydice using a contemporary musical theatre score. The show contains a variety of musical numbers maintaining a consistent narrative throughout. The music is largely relevant to the story and drives the plot further. While the classification of Hadestown as an opera remains controversial, it’s more broadly known as a Musical.

Why Isn’t Hamilton Considered Opera?

Hamilton’s status as a Musical comes primarily from its style of storytelling. Dialogue is present as a means of conveying information about characters, plot, and nuances that aid in absorbing the viewer into the story.

The music in Hamilton acts primarily as an enhancer to the story and emotional backdrop to the scene. While some overlapping aspects of Hamilton’s score and Operatic works exist, it still does not qualify to be classified as an Opera.


Hamilton is fantastic. It is breaking barriers by blending genres and telling a story in a unique way. But it remains a Musical at its core. The usage of music in Musicals and the story’s importance are what distinguish them from Operatic works. Hamilton retains that distinction, primarily because it employs spoken dialogue to convey details critical to the plot.

Opera and Musical, at their core, remain two separate genres, and the distinction between them should remain. However, more importantly, the ability of both mediums to tug at our heartstrings remains conserved regardless of classification – such as the timeless grandeur of The Phantom of the Opera or the compelling story told in Hamilton.

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