Birth of Opera
- Invented in Italy in the early 1600’s.
- The “Florentine Camerata”, which was a group of scholars, got together to device a new type of dramatic music modeled after Greek dramas, that would enhance the text.
- The new music was called “recitative”, which was:
- Modeled after speech. (In between melody and speech.)
- Sung by a soloist
- Light musical accompaniment
- Homophonic (main melody and accompaniment)
- Opera was composed for ceremonial occasions at court.
- Originally aristocratic entertainment, so very fancy. Now, entertainment for anybody.
- Performed in courts of kings, princes, etc.
- Composers were fascinated with Greek and Roman mythology and history, so many early operas were based on it, often flattering the aristocracy.
- Display of splendor, magnificence.
- First public opera house opened in Venice in 1637.
- Many opera houses opened in Italy and the rest of Europe by the 1700’s.
- From the beginning, opera productions were very extravagant with elaborate scenery, backdrops, costumes, special effects, etc.
- Baroque opera gave rise to virtuoso (very skilled) singers.
- Some of the most important were the castrato singers. (Boys who had been castrated before puberty to retain their beautiful, high-pitched voices) Many important opera parts were written for them. They were the superstars of their time and were very well paid, more than regular singers.
Elements of Opera
- Plot (revealed through song)
- Scenery, lighting
- Special effects
- Backstage staff
- Libretto: script
- Librettist: the one who writes the libretto.
Types of opera:
Serious opera: Has serious plots, based on history, mythology. Characters are usually kings, princes, aristocrats, gods, goddesses, etc. Sung in more formal language
Comic opera: Lighter, comic plots: love triangles common, village life. Characters are common people, maids, villagers, peasants. Sung in the vernacular (ordinary language). More spoken dialogue.
Parts of the opera:
- An opera is divided into acts and acts are divided into scenes.
- Usually an opera has 1 to 5 acts, and each act has several (10-20 or more scenes).
- The curtain usually comes down after each act, and that’s when people clap and there’s a short intermission. There is no break between the scenes of an act.
- Recitative: vocal line that imitates speech. It’s sung clearly (syllabic) and moves the action forward. Light accompaniment.
- Aria: main attraction. Emotional, ornamented section to show off singer’s virtuosity (melismatic). Orchestral accompaniment.
- Duets, trios, quartets, chorus, instrumental sections, dance, etc.
- Operas start with overture (introduction)
- Orchestra plays in pit (below the stage).
- Operas sometimes translated or most commonly, use supertitles. (like subtitles in a movie, but above the stage)
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
- Italian singer, violist and opera composer.
- Served at the court of Mantua, northern Italy.
- Little pay or respect in early career.
- Became music director at St. Mark’s in Venice.
- Wrote sacred music for the church and secular music for aristocracy.
- Wanted to write music with intense emotion.
- Wrote 12 operas, only 3 preserved.
- Wrote the “first great opera” called “Orfeo”, composed in 1607. It was a lavish production. Uses many kinds of music: recitatives, arias, duets, chorus, instrumental parts.