Portal:Opera
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Portal:Opera

The Opera Portal

Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work (called an opera) which combines a text (called a libretto) and a musical score. Opera is part of the Western classical music tradition. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery and costumes and sometimes includes dance. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble.

Opera started in Italy at the end of the 16th century (with Jacopo Peri's lost Dafne, produced in Florence around 1597), and was championed by Claudio Monteverdi with works such as L'Orfeo. It soon spread through the rest of Europe: Schütz in Germany, Lully in France, and Purcell in England all helped to establish their national traditions in the 17th century. However, in the 18th century, Italian opera continued to dominate most of Europe, except France, attracting foreign composers such as Handel. Opera seria was the most prestigious form of Italian opera, until Gluck reacted against its artificiality with his "reform" operas in the 1760s. Today the most renowned figure of late 18th century opera is Mozart, who began with opera seria but is most famous for his Italian comic operas, especially The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte, as well as The Magic Flute, a landmark in the German tradition.

The first third of the 19th century saw the highpoint of the bel canto style, with Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini all creating works that are still performed today. It also saw the advent of Grand Opera typified by the works of Meyerbeer. The mid to late 19th century is considered by some a golden age of opera, led by Wagner in Germany and Verdi in Italy. This 'golden age' developed through the verismo era in Italy and contemporary French opera through to Puccini and Strauss in the early 20th century. During the 19th century, parallel operatic traditions emerged in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in Russia and Bohemia. The 20th century saw many experiments with modern styles, such as atonality and serialism (Schoenberg and Berg), Neo-Classicism (Stravinsky), and Minimalism (Philip Glass and John Adams). With the rise of recording technology, singers such as Enrico Caruso became known to audiences beyond the circle of opera fans. Operas were also performed on (and written for) radio and television.

Selected article

A portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, aged 14, in Verona, 1770
Between 1769 and 1773 the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his father Leopold made three Italian journeys. The first, an extended tour of 15 months, was financed by performances for the nobility and by public concerts, and took in the most important Italian cities. The later journeys were to Milan, for Wolfgang to complete operas that had been commissioned there on the first visit. Leopold had been employed since 1747 as a musician in the Archbishop of Salzburg's court, becoming deputy Kapellmeister in 1763; but he had also devoted much time to Wolfgang's and sister Nannerl's musical education. He took them on a "grand tour" between 1764 and 1766, and spent some of 1767 and most of 1768 with them in the imperial capital, Vienna. The children's performances had captivated audiences, especially early in these journeys; and they made a considerable impression on European society. By 1769 Nannerl had reached adulthood, but Leopold was anxious to continue 13-year-old Wolfgang's education in Italy, a crucially important destination for any young composer of the 18th century.

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Mademoiselle Maupin de l'Opéra (Julie d'Aubigny).jpg
Credit: Unknown artist, restored by Adam Cuerden
Julie d'Aubigny, (1670/1673-1707), better known as Mademoiselle Maupin or La Maupin, was a 17th-century opera singer. Little is known for certain about her life; her tumultuous career and flamboyant lifestyle were the subject of gossip, rumor, and colourful stories in her own time, and inspired numerous fictional and semi-fictional portrayals afterwards. Théophile Gautier loosely based the title character, Madeleine de Maupin, of his novel Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835) on her. The part written for her in Tancrède, Clorinde, is considered the first example of writing for the contralto voice in French opera.

In this month

Henry Purcell

Selected biography

Bed?ich Smetana
Bed?ich Smetana (2 March 1824 – 12 May 1884) was a Czech composer who pioneered the development of a musical style which became closely identified with his country's aspirations to independent statehood. He is thus widely regarded in his homeland as the father of Czech music. Internationally he is best known for his opera The Bartered Bride, and for the symphonic cycle Má vlast ("My Fatherland") which portrays the history, legends and landscape of the composer's native land. In 1866 his first two operas, The Brandenburgers in Bohemia and The Bartered Bride, were premiered at Prague's new Provisional Theatre. In that same year, Smetana became the theatre's principal conductor, but the years of his conductorship were marked by controversy. Factions within the city's musical establishment considered his identification with the progressive ideas of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner inimical to the development of a distinctively Czech opera style. This opposition interfered with his creative work, and may have hastened the health breakdown which precipitated his resignation from the theatre in 1874.

Selected quote

Richard Wagner
Oh, I hate the thought of all those costumes and grease paint! When I think that characters like Kundry will now have to be dressed up, those dreadful artists' balls immediately spring into my mind. Having created the invisible orchestra, I now feel like inventing the invisible theatre!

Selected audio

The aria "Ombra mai fù" (originally written for the soprano castrato Caffarelli) from George Frideric Handel's Serse (1738) gained popularity in the 19th century, and proved enduringly popular, being adapted to many voice types and as a popular instrumental piece ("Handel's Largo"). This 1920 recording by tenor Enrico Caruso is one of his last.

Did you know?

Francisco Asenjo Barbieri

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Opera history: Origins of opera • Italian opera • Opera in German • French opera • Opera in English • Polish opera • Russian opera • Hungarian opera • Armenian opera • Opera in Latin America

Opera topics

Opera genres: Azione teatrale · Ballad opera · Comédie en vaudevilles · Comédie mêlée d'ariettes · Dramma giocoso · Dramma per musica · Farsa · Festa teatrale · Género chico · Grand Opera · Music Drama · Opéra-ballet · Opera buffa · Opéra bouffe · Opéra bouffon · Opéra comique · Opéra féerie · Opera semiseria · Opera seria · Operetta · Pastorale héroïque · Romantische Oper · Savoy opera · Semi-opera · Singspiel · Spieloper · Tragédie en musique · Verismo · Zarzuela · Zeitoper

Opera terms: Aria · Aria di sorbetto · Arioso · Bel canto · Breeches role · Burletta · Cabaletta · Cadenza · Cantabile · Castrato · Cavatina · Chest voice · Claque · Coloratura · Comprimario · Convenienze · Coup de glotte · Da capo aria · Diva · Entr'acte · Fach · Falsetto · Fioritura · Gesamtkunstwerk · Head voice · Intermezzo · Kammersänger · Leitmotif · Legato · Libretto · Literaturoper · Mad scene · Maestro · Melodrama · Melodramma · Monodrama · Messa di voce · Opera house · Passaggio · Portamento · Prima donna · Prompter · Recitative · Regietheater · Répétiteur · Sitzprobe · Spinto · Sprechgesang · Squillo · Stagione · Surtitles · Tessitura · Timbre · Vibrato

Opera voices: Baritenor · Baritone · Bass · Bass-baritone · Coloratura soprano · Contralto · Countertenor · Dramatic soprano · Haute-contre · Lyric soprano · Mezzo-soprano · Soprano · Soubrette · Spinto soprano · Tenor · Tenore contraltino · Tenore di grazia

Opera lists: Opera topics • List of operas by composer • Important operas • Major opera composers • Opera librettists • Opera houses • Opera companies • Opera festivals • Opera directors • Operetta composers • Orphean operas • Zarzuela composers • Opera genres • Operas set in the Crusades • The Record of Singing • Bayreuth canon

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