|Interior of La Fenice opera house in Venice in 1837. Venice was, along with Florence and Rome, one of the cradles of Italian opera. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Greek was the first known theater artists especially people from Athens. Their theater plays included all the elements like acting, dialogues, singing, scene, dancing, chorus and music. This art was cultivated by different civilizations having few or all the elements. One of them was the opera. The western classical theater arts which involve conveyance through singing and dancing and not through dialogues is known as Opera. Composition by Jacopo Peri, Dafne, was written in 1597 and was the first known composition specifically meant for opera although it was inspired by Greek theater arts, it no longer exists. Euridice composition by Peri wrote in the 1600s was the first recorded composition which is available till this date.
The performances are most of the times accompanied by chorus and instrumental music. The libretto is the word in opera and there have been great composers who have written famous libretti like Richard Wagner. Handel was the famous German composer who wrote for theaters in England. Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte are famous for the great musical works which were played during the opera performances.
There are two types of singing in opera. The first is recitative in which the story is being narrated in a non-melodies style and the second is an area, where the performers were more melodious. Chorus is used as a commentator and sometimes as a narrator. Subcategories of recitative are secco or dry recitative and Accompagnato or stromentato in which orchestra accompanies the performance. Opera can be further classified as a singspiel, operetta, semi-opera and opera comique. In these types of opera, dialogues are used on the contrary, instead of recitative. Arioso too is replaced by semi-melodic passages.
Opera started with court performances and then shifted to royal theaters. In 1637 this performance was open to the public when the idea of opera festival in Venice was brought up by Monteverdi. It was then known as Baroque opera which had a mixture of both the tragic and comic elements along with some education. This started a reform which was promoted by Venice’s Arcadian Academy. Metastasio was a part of this academy and his libertti became famous till the end of the eighteenth century in Italian opera. And this mixed with baroque opera was known as opera buffa.
The characteristic of Opera Seria is that it had a high tone along with secco kind of recitative. It was greatly liked due to it highly stylized form and the singers at that time were very popular and Opera Seria was in great demand all over Europe except France. The hero had the castrato voice such as Farinelli and Senesino and the heroines had the soprano’s voice such as Faustina Bordoni. Alessandro Scarlatti, Porpora, and Vivaldi were some of the great Opera Seria composers.
But Opera Seria had few loopholes. It concentrated more on drama and left music, singing, and ballet behind. It was Francesco Algarotti who brought all these elements back with his composition Essay on the Opera. He was then followed by other great composers such as Niccolo Jommelli, Tommaso Traetta and the most successful, Gluck. He used a rich orchestra and vocal lines and brought a reform in Opera Seria.