An opera is an exquisite form of art where musicians and singers work together to create a dramatic work that combines singing, musical score and acting in a theatrical setting. Apart from these elements, some opera pieces also include dance numbers, sceneries, fascinating costumes and entire orchestras. The performances are accompanied by either a small musical ensemble or a whole orchestra.
Traditionally, an opera is performed in an opera house, also known as an opera theater. These are large structures that generally feature enormous stages, seating arrangements for the audience, a grand and classic architecture. An opera theater also consists of an orchestra pit, a stage for performances, a backstage facility and costume area.
The opera has a remarkable history. It started in Italy during the latter part of the 16th century with Jacopo Peri’s creation entitled “Dafne,” the earliest opera composition by an Italian composer and singer. This was produced in Florence in 1598. The musical arrangement of “Dafne” consisted of an archlute, a harpsichord, a lute, a triple flute and a viola.
During the 17th century, other popular works followed suit, among them, musical creations by Claudio Monteverdi, Francesco Cavalli and Henry Purcell. Soon, the opera spread throughout the rest of Europe and was highly acclaimed in England, France and Germany. In the year 1637, public performances of the opera were initiated. Such performances gained much recognition from society as they have acquired their own unique style.
The 1730’s saw the beginning of opera in Russia. The “Tsefal I Pokris” which was created by the Italian composer, Francesco Araja, was the first Russian opera in a series of three acts. An English composer known as Thomas Arne was a great influence in the rise in popularity of the English opera. In 1762 he created “Artaxerxes” which gained great recognition and popularity and proved to be a great success until the 1830’s.
The 19th century was considered to be the golden era for opera where it was greatly influenced and dominated by the famous composers Giuseppe Verdi of Italy and Richard Wagner of Germany. Towards the beginning of the 20th century, famous works by John Adams, Luciano Berio, Messiaen Olivier and others emerged and became known.
As popular as it has become over the years, the opera still faced much criticism from some sectors of the society. To such individuals, the opera had lost its original form and dramatic distinctness. However, several performances emerged that somehow obliterated the doubts and concerns of the said groups.
These include “Nabucco,” a biblical-based story which was conceived by Giuseppe Verdi who has also created such notable works as “Don Carlos”, “Falstaff”, “Grand Opera” and “Otello.” Then there is “Bel Canto,” an Italian opera that required pitch control during performances and also the romantic and realistic compositions of Pietro Mascagni.
The Italian opera went beyond national boundaries as it spread and became known to many parts of the world. These developments gave birth to more esteemed personalities in the area of opera music, among them are Jacques Offenbach, Jean-Baptiste Lully and Jean-Philippe Rameau. Offenbach was a French composer born in Germany who is distinguished for his “operettas” or short and light operas. He became a dominant influence in the area of operetta during his time.
Lully was a French composer born in Italy who is considered the master of the Western style of art music known as Baroque. He was also the founder of an Academy of Music that was dedicated to the French opera. Rameau was one of the most prominent music theorists and French composers during the Baroque era. During his time, he was considered the most prominent composer for the harpsichord.
The English opera continuously gained popularity as well with its leading contributors such as George Frideric Handel, a German-born Baroque composer; Douglas Moore, George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein, American composers that made major contributions to English opera.
Opera played a major part in the Western classical tradition in music and it has since reached great lengths to touch the hearts of music lovers around the world.