Opera Essay

This essay has a total of 3103 words and 13 pages.

Opera

Imagine you are in a darkened theater and on stage are the actors. Behind the actors you
can see the scenery. Down in front of the stage, in what is called the pit, is an
orchestra and a conductor. As the orchestra plays, the actors on stage do not speak their
lines they sing them!

Opera is the combination of drama and music. Like drama, opera embraces the entire
spectrum of theatrical elements: dialogue, acting, costumes, scenery and action, but it is
the sum of all these elements, combined with music, which defines the art form called
opera.

Operatic dramas are usually serious, but there are several comic operas and funny scenes
in tragic operas. The music is usually complicated and difficult to sing well. Only the
most skillful singers can handle it. The cast is usually made up of main characters (the
soloists) and a chorus (a group of singers who act as a crowd of people involved in the
action of the plot). Some operas have scenes in which dancing is performed by a small
ballet group.

Operas usually begin with an overture - an introduction played by the orchestra alone.
Once the curtain goes up, the soloists and chorus sing throughout most of the drama. Arias
(songs sung by soloists) are the important points in an opera. In an aria, a character
sings about his or her feelings and thoughts, or about what he or she is going to do.

Between arias, the soloists may sing back and fourth to each other in a kind of musical
discussion called recitatives. Besides singing arias, soloists often join together to sing
duets, trios, quartets, quintets, or sextets at various points in the opera. The chorus
usually has several songs to sing, either alone or with the soloists. The music follows
the action and mood of the plot.

Operas are usually performed in special buildings called opera houses. A choreographer
creates the dances, and the chorus master rehearses the singers. The conductor leads the
entire opera performance from his or her place in the pit. The soloists, chorus members
and the dancers follow the directions of the conductor.

The ancient Greeks blended drama and music, but opera as we know it today developed in
Italy in the late 1500s. At first, the music was used mainly for background. However, by
the end of the century, the drama and the music were equally important.

The opera innovation inspired some of the biggest composers known today. In France,
Jean-Baptiste Lully produced a model for courtly opera that influenced French opera
through the mid-18th century. Jean-Philippe Rameau, George Frederic Handel, and Christoph
Willibald Gluck were the most significant opera composers of the first two-thirds of the
18th century. However, their works were surpassed by the brilliant operas of Wolfgang
Amadeus Mozart. In the early 19th century, Gioacchino Rossini and Gaetano Donizetti
dominated Italian opera. In the later 19th century the greatest works were those of
Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner. Wagner, with his bold innovations, became the most
influential operatic figure since Monteverdi. Richard Strauss and Giacomo Puccini wrote
the most popular late 19th- and early 20th-century operas. Though the death of Puccini in
1924 is often cited as the end of grand opera, new and often experimental works—by
composers such as Alban Berg, Benjamin Britten, Gian Carlo Menotti, John Adams, and Philip
Glass—continued to be produced to critical acclaim. Opera entered the 21st century as a
vibrant and global art form.

The first roots of modern opera first appeared in Italy in the 17th century from the
Camerata (an academy of Florentine poets, musicians, and scholars). The Camerata, inspired
by ancient Greek drama, sung dialogues and choruses which were accompanied by musical
instruments. The Camerata developed the "stile recitative," in order to integrate drama,
action, dialogue and narration. In this "sung speech," a singer delivered a recitative
melody with an actor's dramatic and oratorical skills, achieving the goal of providing
emotional impact to the text through the support of music. The primary focus of Italian
opera at this time was the human voice. This instrument was capable of expressing human
emotions and passions, aspirations, and desires. Since no actual Greek music was known,
composers had considerable freedom in preconceiving it. Imitations of Greek pastoral
poetry became the basis for early opera libretti. The first operas, Dafne by Jacopo Peri
in 1598 and by Giulio Caccini about the same time, are now lost; the earliest surviving
opera is Peri's Eurydice from the 1600's. They consisted of lightly accompanied vocal
melody closely imitating inflected speech.

The musical style of Western Europe music between 1600 and 1750 was called the Baroque
era. Typically, Baroque music was homophonic in texture, its melody concentrated on one
voice or part that was accompanied.

Following the principles established by the Camerata, Claudio Monteverdi became the first
great figure in opera. Monteverdi was a master at polyphony who wanted to experiment with
monophony. He decided to set the drama to music and choose the myth of Orpheus. His opera,
L'Orfeo premiered in Mantua in 1607. Monteverdi composed much of the dialogue of Orpheus
as arioso, a mixture of recitative and metrical song. With this work, recitative began to
be clearly distinguished from aria, an achievement that would prove decisive for opera's
future success.

Monteverdi moved to Venice and made this city the center of opera in Italy. With the
opening of the Teatro di San Cassiano in Venice in 1637, opera became accessible to the
general public. Opera became the most popular art form of public entertainment because it
was no longer exclusively for the nobility. Perhaps the focal point of opera at this time
was arias. It was in arias that Italian castrato singers rose in popularity. The castrati
were singers whose voices had been altered at puberty to preserve and develop their
soprano and alto vocal range.

In the late 1600s, opera became extravagant, with magnificent scenery and huge casts of
people. Arias were written into plots, and the dramas demanded more acting. Women were
trained to sing the female roles. Some composers began writing full length comic operas.
Before 1750, comic operas were short, funny little scenes performed for audiences as
entertainment between the acts of serious opera. English 18th-century comic operas
contained songs and musical interludes, usually consisting of existing popular tunes or
opera melodies with new words, which are combined with spoken dialogue. The first ballad
opera, The Beggar's Opera (1728), by John Gay and J.C. Pepusch, was a sharply satirical
work that became wildly popular and led to numerous similar works.

At the height of the Baroque period, the most successful opera composer was George
Frederic Handel. He wrote many opera seria which was intended to represent music-drama
recreations of Greek tragedy, myth and ancient history. His most famous Italian opera
seria, Julius Caesar, was the sixth of a series of operas he wrote for the Royal Academy
of Music. Handel proved himself an extraordinary musical dramatist in Julius Caesar, its
story containing many explosive dramatic moments. Most of the arias in Handel's operas,
like those of other Baroque composers of his time, are accompanied just by the string
instruments: often the violins are in unison and accompanied by a basso continuo line with
the wind instruments sometimes used to strengthen the sound of the strings. However, in
Julius Caesar, Handel adds flutes, recorder, and horns.

During the latter part of the eighteenth century, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart changed the
perspective for opera. He conveyed mood, situation, and character through his musical
inventions. Most of Mozart's operas were written in Italian. He followed Gluck's
guidelines but strived for more profound dramatic integrity. He created a greater
combination between recitatives and arias, he established accompanied recitatives, many
ensembles and provided greater use of the orchestra. In Mozart's time, the opera buffa
became a favorite genre. Opera buffa provided a means of portraying the Enlightenment
ideals of democracy and humanism in art. Mozart liked portraying themes dealing with these
ideals of the Enlightenment. He was living at a time in which the common man struggled for
his rights against the tyranny and oppression of the nobility. His opera, The Marriage of
Figaro, contains all of the era's social and political conflicts and tensions. It is a
satirical portrayal of the political and social conflicts existing within society. The
primary theme is its portrayal of servants who are cleverer than their selfish, arrogant
masters. Mozart's music for The Marriage of Figaro thunders for social reform, equality,
and leaves the audience aspiring freedom and justice.

In total Mozart wrote over 18 operas, among them: Bastien and Bastienne (1768); La Finta
Semplice (1768); La Finta Giardiniera (1774); Idomeneio, Re di Creta (1781); Le Nozze di
Figaro (1786); Don Giovanni (1787); and Die Zauberflote (1791).

The influential composers in the French Baroque era were Jean-Baptiste Lully and
Jean-Philippe Rameau. Lully became the founder and first major figure of French opera,
introducing a transformed style of Italian opera to the court of Louis XIV during the 18th
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