|Photograph of the facade of the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center, New York|
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Opera's roots are firmly European. The very first opera house, actually a theater designed to host opera performances, was built in Venice, Italy in the 1630's. Composers of the day were mingling dramatic stories with music that ebbed and flowed. Audiences clamored to experience this blend of music and literary art on stage, and thus opera was born.
In those years, singing and dancing were commonplace at most public gatherings. Due to the size of crowds, strong powerful voices were recruited to perform certain singing parts, both male and female. In time, singers were specifically trained for operatic performances, a practice that continues to this day.
As the 17th century dawned, the popularity of opera spread to other European countries, like France, Germany, and England. Indeed, some of opera's most famous works come from composers not native to Italy, like Mozart, Richard Strauss, and Georges Bizet.
The Passion Blooms In The United States
As a land of immigrants, it is only natural that those coming to the United States brought along their skills and passions. Certainly, this is clearly most evident in New York, where the Metropolitan Opera House opened in 1883. Opera spread to other cities across the country, and audiences filled theaters nationally. Later, well-known opera master like Enrico Caruso, Maria Callas, Luciano Pavarotti, and Giuseppe Di Stefano displayed their unique talents to a vast and appreciative American audience.
The Present Day
Opera continues to attract and enchant, witnessed by the fact that 135 opera companies operate in the United States today. Recently, there has been a surge in opera's popularity, as these innovative companies reach out to those unfamiliar with this musical style. An inclusive educational approach has taken hold and broken down some perceptions that opera is only for the elite. Casual informative lectures, subtitles, and relaxed dress codes are just a few strategies opera companies use to attract attendees.
Most importantly, many of these same companies have developed training programs for young singers. Many of these young artists are now performing and thriving in venues across the country. It is hoped this continuing education approach will keep opera thriving and vibrant for generations to come.