The Opera Portal

Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work (called an opera) which combines a text (called a libretto) and a musical score. Opera is part of the Western classical music tradition. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery and costumes and sometimes includes dance. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble.

Opera started in Italy at the end of the 16th century (with Jacopo Peri's lost Dafne, produced in Florence around 1597), and was championed by Claudio Monteverdi with works such as L'Orfeo. It soon spread through the rest of Europe: Schütz in Germany, Lully in France, and Purcell in England all helped to establish their national traditions in the 17th century. However, in the 18th century, Italian opera continued to dominate most of Europe, except France, attracting foreign composers such as Handel. Opera seria was the most prestigious form of Italian opera, until Gluck reacted against its artificiality with his "reform" operas in the 1760s. Today the most renowned figure of late 18th century opera is Mozart, who began with opera seria but is most famous for his Italian comic operas, especially The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte, as well as The Magic Flute, a landmark in the German tradition.

The first third of the 19th century saw the highpoint of the bel canto style, with Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini all creating works that are still performed today. It also saw the advent of Grand Opera typified by the works of Meyerbeer. The mid to late 19th century is considered by some a golden age of opera, led by Wagner in Germany and Verdi in Italy. This 'golden age' developed through the verismo era in Italy and contemporary French opera through to Puccini and Strauss in the early 20th century. During the 19th century, parallel operatic traditions emerged in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in Russia and Bohemia. The 20th century saw many experiments with modern styles, such as atonality and serialism (Schoenberg and Berg), Neo-Classicism (Stravinsky), and Minimalism (Philip Glass and John Adams). With the rise of recording technology, singers such as Enrico Caruso became known to audiences beyond the circle of opera fans. Operas were also performed on (and written for) radio and television.

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Fatinitza was the first full-length, three-act operetta by Franz von Suppé. The libretto by F. Zell (a pseudonym for Camillo Walzel) and Richard Genée was based on the libretto to La circassienne by Eugène Scribe (which had been set to music by Daniel Auber in 1861) but with the lead role of Wladimir, a young Russian lieutenant who has to disguise himself as a woman named Fantinitza, changed to a trousers role; in other words, a woman played the part of the man who pretended to be a woman. It premièred on 5 January 1876, at the Carltheater Vienna with Antonie Link (1853-1931) in the title role and proved a huge success, running for more than a hundred performances, with the march "Vorwärts mit frischem Muth", proving a particular hit.

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The French composer Jules Massenet (1842 – 1912), best known for his operas, of which he wrote more than thirty. By the time of his death, Massenet was regarded by many critics as old-fashioned and unadventurous although his two best-known operas, Manon and Werther, remained popular in France and abroad. After a few decades of neglect, his works began to be favourably reassessed during the mid-20th century, and many of them have since been staged and recorded.

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Marian Anderson in a portrait by Carl Van Vechten

Selected biography

Facade of the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center, NYC
Maria Friderike Radner (7 May 1981 – 24 March 2015) was a German contralto who performed internationally in opera and in concerts. Radner studied at the Robert Schumann Hochschule in Düsseldorf, Germany. Both Stern magazine and Munich's Abendzeitung described her as an "extremely talented interpreter of Wagner's music". Possessing the "rare pitch of a true alto", she frequently appeared as Erda in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen at the Leipzig Opera, Schwertleite in Die Walküre at the Teatro Comunale di Firenze with Zubin Mehta, and in Mahler's Symphony No. 2 (the Resurrection) conducted by Antonio Pappano in Rome and Milan. Her debut at the Metropolitan Opera (pictured) in 2012 in Götterdämmerung was part of that company's documentary Wagner's Dream. Radner died on 24 March 2015 along with her husband Sascha Schenk, their two-year-old son Felix, and her colleague Oleg Bryjak, when Germanwings Flight 9525 crashed near Prads-Haute-Bléone in France. The First Officer had a history of depression, barricaded himself into the cockpit, and deliberately crashed the plane into the mountains.

Selected quote

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I love my coloratura music, and I think my audience likes it too; it goes to the heart—it is all melody, and that is what people like.

Selected audio

From Giuseppe Verdi's Il trovatore, sung by Gabriella Besanzoni (1920)

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Rita Fornia


Main topics

Opera history: Origins of opera • Italian opera • Opera in German • French opera • Opera in English • Polish opera • Russian opera • Hungarian opera • Armenian opera • Opera in Latin America

Opera topics

Opera genres: Azione teatrale · Ballad opera · Comédie en vaudevilles · Comédie mêlée d'ariettes · Dramma giocoso · Dramma per musica · Farsa · Festa teatrale · Género chico · Grand Opera · Music Drama · Opéra-ballet · Opera buffa · Opéra bouffe · Opéra bouffon · Opéra comique · Opéra féerie · Opera semiseria · Opera seria · Operetta · Pastorale héroïque · Romantische Oper · Savoy opera · Semi-opera · Singspiel · Spieloper · Tragédie en musique · Verismo · Zarzuela · Zeitoper

Opera terms: Aria · Aria di sorbetto · Arioso · Bel canto · Breeches role · Burletta · Cabaletta · Cadenza · Cantabile · Castrato · Cavatina · Chest voice · Claque · Coloratura · Comprimario · Convenienze · Coup de glotte · Da capo aria · Diva · Entr'acte · Fach · Falsetto · Fioritura · Gesamtkunstwerk · Head voice · Intermezzo · Kammersänger · Leitmotif · Legato · Libretto · Literaturoper · Mad scene · Maestro · Melodrama · Melodramma · Monodrama · Messa di voce · Opera house · Passaggio · Portamento · Prima donna · Prompter · Recitative · Regietheater · Répétiteur · Sitzprobe · Spinto · Sprechgesang · Squillo · Stagione · Surtitles · Tessitura · Timbre · Vibrato

Opera voices: Baritenor · Baritone · Bass · Bass-baritone · Coloratura soprano · Contralto · Countertenor · Dramatic soprano · Haute-contre · Lyric soprano · Mezzo-soprano · Soprano · Soubrette · Spinto soprano · Tenor · Tenore contraltino · Tenore di grazia

Opera lists: Opera topics • List of operas by composer • Important operas • Major opera composers • Opera librettists • Opera houses • Opera companies • Opera festivals • Opera directors • Operetta composers • Orphean operas • Zarzuela composers • Opera genres • Operas set in the Crusades • The Record of Singing • Bayreuth canon

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