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The relationship between words and music in opera has been a contested one right from the very start. Over the history of this form of musical drama, the relative importance of each component has shifted radically, often provoking operatic 'reforms' aimed at righting what was intended, at opera's birth, to be a balance of the two. But to complicate matters further, opera does not consist only of words and music; unlike the lied or lyric poem, opera aims to tell, or rather to show, a more extensive story. It does this not only through the words, but also, in complex ways, through the music itself (which 'speaks' directly to and is heard by the audience, not the characters on stage). But one further complication: the interaction of words with music is not alone in communicating the narrative of opera: through its dramatic performance, opera deploys multiple semiotic systems - visual (lighting, costumes, sets), gestural, auditory, etc. - to enact its story. Using examples from the past and present of opera, this study investigates these multiple complications and their consequences for theorizing the relationship of words to music more generally.