Brought to you by one of my student's questions. Have you ever wondered what the difference between an aria and an art song is? Or maybe just what someone means when they say "aria"?
The simplest answer is that a solo piece from an opera, oratorio, or cantata is an aria while a stand-alone (or sometimes part of a set or series, but not a full-blown cantata) is a song.
In general, art songs are going to be more suited to young or beginning singers. Many arias require more vocal stamina and technique than a young larynx is simply capable of (without unhealthy over-manipulation). So the next time you see some little kid singing an opera aria on whatever talent TV show you like, just know that it's actually pretty unhealthy for them. They're probably going to permanently damage their vocal folds.
Bonus: An opera is a staged work with costumes, props, etc. that tells a story; an oratorio is not staged, is often religious (it grew out of the prohibition of staged works during Lent); a cantata is like a short oratorio; a sacred cantata may actually be part of a church service. Broadway pieces I'd just call songs or melodies.
In honor of Mother's Day this weekend I've chosen all lullabies as my clips. Enjoy!
Just to confuse you, I'll go on to discuss specific types of art songs. :) Beginning singers will focus on songs from these four languages' musical traditions: