Portal:Opera

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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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Selected article

Front cover of the original 1899 libretto
Tosca is an opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini to an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. It premiered at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome on 14 January 1900. The work, based on Victorien Sardou's 1887 French-language dramatic play, La Tosca, is a melodramatic piece set in Rome in June 1800, with the Kingdom of Naples's control of Rome threatened by Napoleon's invasion of Italy. It depicts graphic scenes of torture, murder and suicide, yet it contains some of Puccini's best-known lyrical arias, and has inspired memorable performances from many of opera's leading singers. Puccini saw Sardou's play when it was touring Italy in 1889 and, after some vacillation, obtained the rights to turn the work into an opera in 1895. Turning the wordy French play into a succinct Italian opera took four years, during which the composer repeatedly argued with his librettists and publisher. While critics have frequently dismissed the opera as a facile melodrama with confusions of plot—musicologist Joseph Kerman famously called it a "shabby little shocker"—the power of its score and the inventiveness of its orchestration have been widely acknowledged. The dramatic force of Tosca and its characters continues to fascinate both performers and audiences, and the work remains one of the most frequently performed operas.

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Fervaal
Illustration credit: Carlos Schwabe; restored by Adam Cuerden
Fervaal is an opera with a prologue and three acts by the French composer Vincent d'Indy. Fervaal is the son of a Celtic king and is destined to be the last advocate of the old gods. His mission is to save his homeland from invasion and pillage, but in doing so he must renounce love. This illustration, by the Swiss painter Carlos Schwabe, relates to the 10 May 1898 premiere of the opera at the Théâtre de l'Opéra-Comique in Paris. Here, Fervaal is depicted ascending a mountain while carrying the body of his beloved Guilhen at the end of the opera, as the pagan gods and their worshippers fade out of existence with the dawn of Christianity.

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Pauline Viardot in an 1840 portrait by P.F. Sokolov

Selected biography

Nellie Melba by Henry Walter Barnett
Dame Nellie Melba GBE (19 May 1861 – 23 February 1931), born Helen Porter Mitchell, was an Australian operatic soprano. She became one of the most famous singers of the late 19th and early 20th century and was the first Australian to achieve international recognition as a classical musician. Melba studied singing in Melbourne and debuted to modest success there. After a brief, unsuccessful marriage she moved to Europe in search of a singing career. After a false start in London, she studied in Paris and made a great success there. Returning to London she quickly established herself as the leading lyric soprano at Covent Garden and achieved further success at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Her repertoire was small. In her whole career she sang no more than 25 roles, and was closely identified with only ten. She returned to Australia frequently during the 20th century. She built a house near Melbourne and taught singing at the Melbourne Conservatorium. Melba continued to sing until the last months of her life, and made a legendary number of "farewell" appearances. Her death, in Australia, was news across the English-speaking world, and her funeral was a major national event.

Selected quote

Giacomo Puccini
Massenet feels the story as a Frenchman, with the powder and the minuets. I shall feel it as an Italian, with desperate passion.

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Did you know?

Harolyn Blackwell

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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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