Opera, an essential part of the Western classical music tradition, is a beautiful blend of music, drama, and dance. It is an exquisite art form wherein singers and musicians put up a dramatic work on stage. An opera house is a theater made up of a stage, an orchestra pit, seating, and backstage facilities for the audience that is used for opera performances. Opera has a glorious history that starts 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 genesis of opera and also examine a brief story of this popular art form.
When and where did opera begin? Dafne, created by Jacopo Peri, singer, and an Italian composer, is seen as the earliest opera composition. It was largely inspired by an elect circle of Florentine humanists. The orchestration of Dafne consisted of a harpsichord, a viol, a triple flute, a lute, and an archlute. Sadly, no one has managed to trace it till date. Euridice, a proceedings of the same composer has survived and represents one of the ancient operas surviving today. Euridice was composed for the marriage of Henry IV and Maria de Medici.
There have been a large number of opera singers, who’ve produced some land mark compositions and works by composers. Some of them have also acted as composers in several scenarios. Most opera singers, sang as characters of the play.
Often credited to become one of the best opera singers of the century, she sang as a Soprano (in the vocal range of 2 octaves above the middle C note). Rosa Ponselle began her musical journey with piano lessons, later on shifting her focus to singing. Most of her noted work was performed at the New York Metropolitan Opera. After her debut in the La forza del destino opera, she starred in several acclaimed operas, such as Cavalleria rusticana, L’amore dei tre re, and La Juive. In addition to these incredible performances, she likewise has several epic and landmark operas to her credit such as Don Giovanni. This was a composition by Mozart and La vestale, her only and the most acclaimed performance in Italian opera. Though Rosa Ponselle had a highly successful international career, she gracefully started giving off the limelight to others and retired, making only occasional and personal performances. Critics have been left dumbfounded by her charming voice and ability to generate true and pure notes in her vocals. Fact is, one mightn’t even find a voice as pure as hers even in the firmament.
The opera hadn’t remained limited to the court by 1637. Public performances of operas had begun. They soon acquired a style of their own and began gaining appreciation from society. However, opera had to deal with criticism from some sectors of society. This 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 19th century, wiping out criticism and fear in the spirit of the masses.
Nabucco that is founded 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. Grand opera, Don Carlos as also Otello and Falstaff inspired from Shakespearean literature, were certain of his notable works. Following Nabucco, Pietro Mascagni, an Italian composer came forward with a sentimental and realistic style of composition. The Italian opera crossed national boundaries and began spreading to various parts of the world.
Jean-Baptiste Lully, a French composer born in Italy, as a revolt against the proliferation of Italian opera in France, established a separate tradition of opera. He also founded an Academy of Music dedicated to the French opera. Besides Lully, Jean-Philippe Rameau, one among the most prominent composers and music theorists in France and Jacques Offenbach, known for the operetta form were among the other famous names in the field of opera music.
In the 1730s, opera came to Russia. Foreign composers like Domenico Cimarosa, Baldassare Galuppi and others got an occasion 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 establishment of the first real Russian opera.
Thomas Arne, an English composer hugely contributed to the rise in the popularity of English-language opera. His first experiment with comic opera turned out being a vast success. His opera Artaxerxes of 1762 gained immense popularity. George Frideric Handel, a Baroque composer born in Germany was another major contributor to the increase in popularity of English opera. However, works of Beethoven and Mozart remained popular for long. American composers like Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin and Douglas Moore were part 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. This were still popular. One of the most outstanding figures in the area of the opera music was Richard Wagner. He was a German composer, conductor and theater director who had to fight controversies before he emerged a successful opera composer. He is known to have revolutionized opera music by bringing about significant changes in the rendition, thus giving it a new dimension.
Today, opera is among the most popular forms of western music. It has reached far and wide and shall continue being popular among music lovers.