History of Opera

History of Opera

The word opera means work in Italian (it is the plural of Latin opus meaning "work" or "labour"). It suggests combining the arts of solo and choral singing, declamation, acting and dancing in a staged spectacle.

In the history of opera, Dafne by Jacopo Peri was the earliest work considered opera, as we understand it today. It dates from around 1597, under the inspiration of an elite circle of literate Florentine humanists known as the "Camerata de' Bardi". Dafne was an attempt to revive the classical Greek drama. As such it was part of the wider revival of antiquity characteristic of the Renaissance.

The members of the Camerata were of the opinion that the "chorus" parts of Greek dramas were originally sung, and possibly even the entire text of all roles. Opera was conceived as a way of "restoring" this situation.

Dafne is unfortunately lost. A later work by Peri, Euridice, dating from 1600, is the first opera score to have survived to the present day.

The honor of being the first opera still to be regularly performed, however, goes to Claudio Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, composed for the court of Mantua in 1607.

Opera did not remain confined to court audiences for long; in 1637 the idea of a "season" (Carnival) of publicly attended operas supported by ticket sales emerged in Venice.

Monteverdi had moved to the city from Mantua and composed his last operas, Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria and L'incoronazione di Poppea, for the Venetian theatre in the 1640s.

His most important follower Francesco Cavalli helped spread opera in Italy.

In the early Baroque operas, broad comedy was blended with tragic elements in a mix that could be jarring, sparking the first of opera's reform movements, sponsored by Venice's Arcadian Academy. It came to be associated with the poet Metastasio, whose libretti helped crystallize the genre of opera seria. This became the leading form of Italian opera until the end of the 18th century.

Once the Metastasian ideal had been firmly established, comedy in Baroque-era opera was reserved for what came to be called opera buffa.

History of Opera