Evolution of Opera

The history of opera music can be traced back to the late 16th century and has its origins in the Greek and Roman periods. During “intermezzi”, which actually means intermissions, which occur in between acts of the play, the actors would keep the audience entertained by singing and dancing. The entertainers, who were dressed in colorful costumes, sang, danced, played musical instruments and performed skits. With time, the intermezzi became popular with the audience. Consequently, a brand new entertainment form emerged; this form included singing and Music. This essay seeks to discuss the evolution of operatic performance from 1600 through to 1800 and the contributions of individuals that include; Monteverdi, Handel, Mortzat and Rossini (Ferguson, V.).

Claudio Monteverdi

Monteverdi was born in Cremona in northern Italy in 1567. He was the most influential figure in early Italian opera. His works marked a form of bridge from the Renaissance to Baroque music. Orfeo was his first opera and was staged in 1607 rat the court of Mantua; Arianna came next and was commissioned for a wedding. He made a huge contribution to the development of opera, he is credited with developing the use of singing forms that have remained an important component in opera to this day. Monteverdi was the first composer to specifically assign instruments to parts. In 1613, Monteverdi relocated to Venice where he became the head of music or “Maestro di capella of the San Marco church. Despite the fact that Monteverdi became a priest thereby devoting himself to religious music, Monteverdi continued to write operas; L’incoronazione di Poppea was his best known opera (Asiado, T.).

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George Frideric Handel

Handel was born in Saxony in 1685 and started his musical career as an organist in his local church. He then relocated to Hamburg, after the first opera house outside Italy was opened in 1678. In 1706, Handel moved to Italy where he achieved his greatest success when he became a popular composer with Agrippina. In 1710, Handel became the Elector of Hannover’s court musician, he later on settled in London. He put up two opera companies in England, though they were not successful. He then put all his efforts in composing oratorios; including his most famous work ‘Messiah’. He composed over 50 operas some of which were recorded and performed in theatres. In England During the 18th century, the members of the audience would converse, eat, cheer actors they liked or jeered at those they didn’t (Asioado, T.).

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart was born in Austria in 1751, he wrote works in almost every genre. His father, Leopold taught Mozart how to play instruments including the violin, harpsichord and organ and he began composing by the age of six. To this day, Mozart is remembered for his contributions. Among his contributions, Mozart wrote 41 symphonies, 21 concertos, 13 serenades among others (WAMozartfan.com).

Gioachino Rossini

Rossini was born in 1792 in Pesaro Italy into a family of musicians. He also started his musical career early on at the age of six. He produced his first opera at the age of 18, La Cambiale di Matrimonio in Venice. His most famous works are William Tell and The Barber of Seville or “Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Rossini was nicknamed “Monsieur Crescendo” as a result of the characteristic mannerism evident in his musical writing (Gioachino Rossini).

Opera can be described as a visual and audible art and it is a fulfillment of the Baroque intention of integrating the arts with music and drama being the fundamental components. In the beginning, operas were staged in settings that were courtly. In the 1600’s, the themes of operas were to a greater extent based on mythology, either Greek or Italian and people with noble characters were mostly featured. These performances promoted aristocratic ideals (Sorabella, J.).

In the 17th and 18th centuries, set designers and the creators of theatrical machinery at times received greater praise than the composers, even though music and drama were the characteristic features of opera. Monteverdi employed the use of recitative and lyrical solos, instrumental color and madrigals in a wide range of classical themes. He wrote works for the public operas after the first public opera house was opened in 1637. Since then, the public became and continues to be the primary audience of these performances (Sorabella,J.)

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Towards the end of the 18th century, opera had gained international recognition and was performed in different countries in Europe including Italy, England, France as well as the Habsburg Empire; Italian, however, was the standard libretto language. Focus shifted from the set and on stage machinery to the quality of music; the quality rose highly during this time. Composers that included Georg Handel made the orchestra to include wind instruments such as horns and even drums which complemented the original string instruments. Castaro soprano voice was more often than not given the main part which was heroic. Mozart brought about dramatic purpose in the music voices and orchestra at the end of the 18th century (Sorabella,J.)

In the 19th century, the audience of the opera was broadened; composers, actors, theatre impresarios and singers competed for popularity. Broad cultural movements for example romanticism and realism became evident in operas. Some composers of this time also featured high tragedy in their compositions (Sorabella,J.)

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The evolution of opera which has its origins in Greek mythology indeed underwent a metamorphosis of some sort in the period between 1600 to1800. Among the most notable players in this development include Monteverdi, Handel, Mozart and Rossini who are widely regarded to be geniuses in their own right. Their influence in this genre is evident in opera houses to this day.


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