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A Brief History of Opera

A Brief History of Opera: Standing the Test Of Time

Where did opera begin? How did it spread across the globe? Go through this brief history of opera to find the answers.
Manali Oak
Last Updated: Mar 28, 2019
Opera, an integral part of Western classical music tradition, is a beautiful blend of music, dance, and drama. It is an exquisite art form wherein singers and musicians put up a dramatic work on stage. An opera house is a theater consisting of a stage, an orchestra pit, backstage facilities and seating for the audience that is used for opera performances.
Opera has a glorious history that begins with the popular works by Monteverdi, Purcell and Cavalli of the seventeenth century and ranges right up to the twentieth century works of Messiaen, Berio, Adams and others. Let's take a tour to the era that witnessed the origin of opera and also look at a brief history of this popular art form.
History and Timeline of Opera
When and where did opera begin? Dafne, created by Jacopo Peri, an Italian composer and singer, is regarded as the earliest opera composition. It was largely inspired by an elite circle of Florentine humanists.
The orchestration of Dafne consisted of a harpsichord, a lute, a viol, a triple flute, and an archlute. Sadly, no one has been able to trace it till date. Euridice, a work of the same composer has survived and is one of the ancient operas surviving today. Euridice was composed for the marriage of Henry IV and Marie de Medici.
By 1637, the opera had not remained confined to the court. Public performances of operas had begun. They soon acquired a style of their own and began gaining appreciation from society. However, opera had to face criticism from some sections of society, which believed that it had lost its dramatic purity.
There was a fear among certain people that opera might lose its original form. Bel canto, literally meaning 'beautiful singing', is an Italian opera that requires agility and pitch control for performance. It received greater impetus in the nineteenth century, wiping out criticism and fear in the minds of the masses.
Nabucco that is based on the biblical story and play, by Ancient-Bourgeois and Francis Cornu, succeeded Bel Canto. It was devised by Giuseppe Verdi, a romantic composer of Italy.
composer Guiseppe Verdi
Grand opera, Don Carlos, as also Otello and Falstaff inspired from Shakespearean literature, were some of his notable works. Following Nabucco, Pietro Mascagni, an Italian composer came up with a sentimental and realistic style of composition. The Italian opera crossed national boundaries and began spreading to different parts of the world.
Jean-Baptiste Lully, a French composer born in Italy, as a revolt against the spread of Italian opera in France, established a separate tradition of opera. He also founded an Academy of Music dedicated to the French opera.
Jean-Philippe Rameau
Jean-Philippe Rameau is the prominent composers and music theorists in France.
Jacques Offenbach
And Jacques Offenbach, known for the operetta form.
In the 1730s, opera came to Russia. Foreign composers like Domenico Cimarosa, Baldassare Galuppi and others got an opportunity to come to Russia to compose new operas.
Tsefal i Pokris, an opera seria in three acts was the first Russian opera. It was written by the Italian composer, Francesco Araja. Mikhail Glinka, a Russian composer is credited with the creation of the first real Russian opera.
Thomas Arne, an English composer hugely contributed to the increase in the popularity of English-language opera. His first experiment with comic opera turned out to be a huge success. His opera Artaxerxes of 1762 gained immense popularity.
George Frideric Handel
George Frideric Handel, a Baroque composer born in Germany was another major contributor to the rise in popularity of English opera.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
However, works of Beethoven and Mozart remained popular for long.
American composers like Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, and Douglas Moore were some of the relatively later contributors to English opera. The Italian opera was highly influential over the German society. However, some German composers came up with certain native styles of music, which were nonetheless popular.
composer Richard Wagner
One of the most prominent figures in the field of opera music was Richard Wagner.
He was a German composer, conductor, and theater director who had to fight controversies before he emerged as a successful opera composer. He is known to have revolutionized opera music by bringing about major changes in the rendition, thus giving it a new dimension.
Today, opera is one of the most popular forms of western music. It has reached far and wide and shall continue to be popular among music lovers.