Based in London, the magazine was founded in 1950 by George Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood. It was launched at the house of Richard Buckle, under the imprint 'Ballet Publications Ltd'. The magazine contains reviews and articles about current opera productions internationally, as well as articles on opera recordings, opera singers, opera companies, opera directors, and opera books. The magazine also contains major features and analysis on individual operas and people associated with opera.
In 1965 Victor Gollancz Limited published a wide-ranging collection of articles which had appeared in the magazine during the first 15 years, with alongside those by regular Opera contributors, articles by Benjamin Britten, Sylvia Fisher, Magda Olivero, Helga Pilarczyk, Dennis Arundell, Osbert Lancaster, Joan Cross, Gottfried Schmiedel and Erwin Stein.
An occasional series of supplements have been published: Thirty all-time great recordings (August 2002), Great Opera Houses of the World (July 2003), In character: Great singers in great roles 1 (August 2004) and 2 (September 2006), Great First Nights (September 2005), Opera stage on screen (September 2007); along with four volumes of reprints of profiles of singers (grouped by voice type, 2002–2004) and directors (January 2006 and January 2007).
A separate annual 'Festivals' issue was published until 2012, with listings of opera or operetta festivals (or music festivals including operas) in the UK and all around the world for the coming season, preceded by longer articles on particular festival projects or personalities. From 2013, the separate issue was dropped in favour of a festivals focus in the April edition, due to the ready availability of listings on-line.
In recent years, the last page has been a lighter feature, such as 'I can't live without... golf' by Barbara Bonney (August 1999), ‘My First Opera – Don Giovanni’ by Osmo Vänskä (February 2004), and Roger Parker on why he would like to come back as Pasha Selim (December 2007).
Opera employs a network of international correspondents around the world who write for the magazine. Contributors to the magazine, both past and present, include William Ashbrook, Martin Bernheimer, Julian Budden, Rodolfo Celletti, Alan Blyth, Elizabeth Forbes, and J.B. Steane among many others.
The magazine is printed in A5 size, with colour photos, and each edition consists of around 130 pages. Page numbering is consecutive for a complete year (e.g. September 2009 goes from p1033-1168). All issues since August 2006 are available online to current subscribers (through Exact Editions) but there is no online-only subscription option.
- Law R. I can't live without.. Opera. Opera, February 2000.
- The Opera Bedside Book. Ed Harold Rosenthal. Victor Gollancz Limited, London, 1965.
- Reference individual supplements, all published by Opera.
- Opera Festivals 2009. Opera magazine, 2009.
- Editorial, p.405. Opera magazine, April 2013
- Sadie S. Harold Rosenthal. In: The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Macmillan, London and New York, 1997.