The history of opera began in the 1500s in Italy. Jacopo Peri’s Dafne (1598) is widely held to be the first opera ever performed.
The Earliest Operas
By the 15th century, several new musical instruments had emerged, notably the trumpet. This instrument, along with other ones, changed the face of stage plays considerably. The result was that actors had to belt out their lines or sing along so their voices wouldn’t get drowned out by the music. This innovative approach would gain popularity throughout Europe.
The Medici family of Florence was known for being patrons of the arts. Some historians believe that they commissioned Jacopo Peri to compose Dafne in 1598. In the history of opera, this play is often singled out as the first. However some historians bevel opera came about in stages and not via one play.
Opera Spreads throughout Europe
The impact of Dafne and succeeding plays was immense. The new musical form spread from Italy to France, Germany and the Austrian Empire. With the exception of Italy however, acceptance of opera was limited to the wealthy and aristocratic. Opera took a strong hold in Venice, and it would eventually become the staging ground for some of the finest operas in the continent.
Claudio Monteverdi became one of the leading composers of the Renaissance. His inaugural play Orpheo was conducted in 1607. What set him apart from the others was that his plays were designed for everyone. Unlike other operas, his compositions had appeal for both royalty and merchant. This was a significant point in the history of opera.
As opera became widespread, two forms emerged, opera seria (dramatic) and opera buffa (comedic). At the same time, stories changed. The storylines became more complex, with symbolism and subplots becoming commonplace.
During the 1600s, women also began taking part in some of the performances. England’s Henry Purcell was among the first to include women in his compositions.
Opera in the 18th and 19th Centuries
It was at this point that opera came into full bloom. The 18th century witnessed operas staged in an extravagant manner, something not seen before in the history of opera. The music was often accompanied by flamboyant costumes.
In 1876, the German composer Richard Wagner produced the Lord of the Niibelungs, one of the greatest operas of all time. Other renowned composers of the period were Richard Strauss, Robert Schumann, Gluck and of course Wolfgang Mozart.
In Britain, the opera buffa took centerstage. Among its finest exponents were Fredric Handel, John Gay and Sullivan. Eventually, European immigrants would bring the opera to the United States.
New York became the focal point of opera. Soon, opera assumed various forms including operetta. Operetta is similar to opera except the stories are more humorous.
The history of opera was born out of the need to express a story or message in an entertaining manner. Eventually it reached the point when it combined drama, music and singing into one form. It’s no wonder that it’s been called the unifier of the arts.
Despite the emergence of many musical genres, opera remains popular throughout the world. Go over the history of opera and trace its evolution through the centuries. Get information on the people that shaped the history of opera.