Nov 6, 2017 in Informative

Opera

Among the musical genres, opera takes a peculiar place. Being a symbiosis of incompatible elements, it is a brilliant sample of diverse and impressive tendency in the art. During the entire history of the opera development, this specific genre has been arising brisk debates. Some composers, critics and the audience prefer the classical variant, their opponents insist on a transformation of the genre, enriching it with innovative elements.

Opera Definition

According to a dictionary, opera is "a musical drama in which the dialogue is sung" (Opera, n.d.). There is another definition of the opera genre as "an art form where singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining libretto and musical score" (Opera history, 2011). Opera reflects the Baroque tradition of combining different arts. In order to illustrate, opera integrates details of a theatre, for instance, acting, scenery, costumes and sometimes dance. An orchestra accompanies a dramatic work; an architecture and painting are represented in the design of opera houses, being resembled on the stage in forms of decorations and costumes for certain performances. Nevertheless, the key feature of opera is magnificent music written for the several octaves of a human voice, highlighting the unique expression of people's emotions (The opera, 2013).

Opera History

Opera as an art form has passed the way from the court theatre to the public settings. Originated in Italy in the 16th century, it soon spread on the neighbor countries, establishing an essential element of the Western trend of classical music. First performances did not resemble modern operas that included entertainments and striking effects, such as fireworks and dances, staged on royal wedding days, or greeting honorable guests. In the 16th century, the Florentine Camerata made a significant impact on the development of the opera genre. This group included the composers and dramatists who revived the unique tendencies of the classical Greek art, combining music and drama. The representatives of the Florentine Camerata focused on the recitative, "a type of sung speech featuring the solo voice and an unadorned vocal line expressive of the text" (The opera, 2013). The plot of the first operatic compositions used mythological themes; its characters were aristocratic and appealed to noble ideals. In operas of the 17th and 18th centuries, visual effects were preferable to music. Unlike modern performances, the stage and the auditorium were lit during numerous hours of plays, and the spectators were tracing the plot of the opera in illustrated librettos. Unlike contemporary librettos, representing the entire text of the performance, a libretto was a printed-paper in the 17th and 18th centuries. Translated as 'a little book', librettos were created by talented engravers and were magnificently illustrated to remind the great event (The opera, 2013). Since the 16th century, operas have been evolving in a certain degree. The operas' creators understood that a melody could make a significant impression on the audience, expressing feelings, depicting characters, and highlighting dramatic situations. Moreover, music was more impressive, than verbal expression of the key ideas in operas. "Arias for solo voice might express a sentiment both musically and verbally; ensembles, choruses, and orchestral interludes likewise produced effective color" (The opera, 2013). In the 18th century, the peculiarity of the operas was resembled in the wide involvement of castrati as stars of the genre. Their soprano voice impressed the audience that wanted to enjoy unusual beauty. The skillfully composed melodies drew the entire public attention, decreasing the dramatic element of operatic compositions. The innovations were provided by Christoph Willibald von Gluck, "whose 'Orfeo ed Euridice' of 1762 re-casted the time-honored operatic story of the artist whose song could thwart death itself" (The opera, 2013).

Claudio Monteverdi Contribution

Claudio Monteverdi is the first master of opera genre. His 'Orfeo' is considered to be the first real opera performance. Despite existence of court compositions, original public opera houses emerged in Venice, where Monteverdi's masterpieces were staged for the public.

In the 18th century, the Age of Enlightenment came. Being performed in Italia, operas spread on numerous European countries, such as France, England, and the Habsburg Empire. Despite brilliant decorations, created by the skillful artists such as Francois Boucher and Antoine Watteau, the accent was made on the quality of music in operatic compositions. The famous composers Jean-Philippe Rameau and George Frideric Handel represented the Age of Enlightenment. There were certain changes in the orchestra that "expanded to include wood wind instruments, horns, and drums in addition to the original strings" (The opera, 2013).

Lotario was presented by George Frideric Handel in 1729, and it was not accepted by the public and it lasted only ten performances. Comprising three acts, the plot of the opera is simple: King of Italy dies, because of secret plans of wicked Duke of Spoleto. The murderer and his wife Matilde want to organize the marriage of the queen Adelaide and their son Idelberto who has fallen in love with the beautiful widow. Nevertheless, Adelaide does not accept his proposition. King of Germany Lotario saves the young woman from her enemies and defeats them. Despite the opera's failure, Handel highly appreciated his creation and used some musical extracts in his later masterpieces. In 1728, George Frederic Handel staged 'Ptolemy, King of Egypt' that was performed again in 1730 and 1733, and later it was presented in 1938, after approximately 200 years passed. The story takes place in 108 BC. Ptolemy, King of Egypt, loses his crown, and saving his life, runs to Cyprus. The destiny of Ptolemy is tragic: his mother refuses him, preferring his brother Alessandro, all relatives and close friends do not support him (Opera history, 2011).

Mozart's Impact in the Opera Development

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart made a significant impact in the opera development in the 18th century. 'The Marriage of Figaro' impresses with the acute melodies depicting the main characters: wise servant Figaro, his charming fiancée Susanna, the enamored Countess, the womanizing Count, and the smart Cherubini. Lorenzo Da Ponte wrote the libretto for this operatic composition. In 1787, Da Ponte and Mozart created another masterpiece 'Don Giovanni' about a shameless seducer. This play is famous for two brisk scenes, depicting the witty events of acceptance an invitation by the statue of a murdered man and the inevitable way to hell. The Magic Flute is the third famous opera by Mozart, narrating about the events that occur in a magic place (Opera history, 2011).

The 19th century was remarkable for enhancing the range of the audience for opera and the following transformation of this genre. Romantism, Orientalism, and Realism blossomed in France and Italy, reflected in operas "as in the visual arts, while the rise of nationalism produced vigorous new operatic traditions in Germany and Russia" (Opera history, 2011). Impressed by Sir Walter Scott's novel, Gaetano Donizetti created 'Lucia di Lammermoor', telling about inherited feelings of hatred, unhappy love, and the fatal destiny of the heroine. Another genius composer, Giacomo Meyerbeer wrote 'Robert le Diable' attracting the audience by "lavish effects, spectacular sets, choreographed dances, and huge onstage ensembles" (Opera history, 2011). There were numerous composers, well known by their significant contribution into the opera heritage. To illustrate, Charles Gounod made a devil as a main hero in his 'Faust', George Bizet added Spanish details to his 'Carmen'. In fact, strong feelings, the emotional and morally wrong behavior in operatic compositions contradicted the key standards of the existing bourgeoisie (Opera history, 2011).

Giuseppe Verdi'sContribution

Giuseppe Verdi was skillful in depicting of fatal events in his operas that charm with brilliant pathetic music involving "chorus, ensembles, solo voices and the orchestra" (Opera history, 2011). His 'Nabucco' depicts the grief of prisoners for their motherland, 'Rigoletto' narrates about a court jester whose hatred and overwhelming desire to punish his enemies causes the fatal consequences. In 'Aida', the marvelous love story depicts romantic feelings of an Ethiopian princess to an Egyptian officer of very high rank, who heads the army of her enemies. 'Otello', based on the play by Shakespeare, narrates about the main character's jealousy that makes him murder his innocent wife. "On stage, the triumphal parade in 'Aida' can evoke the grandeur of pharaonic Egypt, and the arrival of the ambassadors in 'Othello' may resemble a Venetian painting brought to life" (Opera history, 2011).

Nevertheless, some composers of the 19th century had different views on the operatic composition. Richard Wagner preferred the complete work representing acting of characters, staging performances, and melodies as an influential unity. The composer reached his goals by means of the strict control of every detail in his creativity, composing his own librettos, decorations, and melodies. Consisted of four acts, the magnificent 'Der Ring des Nibelungen' exceeds existed Italian operas. Based on national myths, the plot of the opera requires picturesque decorations in the scenes of the Rhine Maidens travelling under the water surface, the Valkyriees flying on the magic horses, the terrifying fight with the dragon, and many other details. In Germany, Wagner founded the opera house, corresponding to his own high demands. His innovations included darkening the concert hall where the audience was sitting during plays, and hiding the orchestra pit in order not to distract the spectators' attention from the actors' acting (Opera history, 2011).

At the end of the 19th century, the opera was regarded as the art reflecting great ideals, heroic events, and diverse nations. For instance, the Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky shifted the accents from the char's family to the chorus of crowd, depicting a tragic period in the history of his land. Despite the protection of Italian opera by Katherine the Great, Russian tendency in opera stands apart, truly being considered a reflection of increasing nationalism.

Despite profound attention to tragic and heroic themes, there were brilliant comic operas in this period. Giocchino Rossini composed his well-known 'The Barber of Seville', depicting comic intrigues; Wagner created 'Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg', rife with funny situations.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Romanticism was still making a significant influence on the development of opera. Richard Strauss created his masterpieces; Giacomo Puccinni became famous for his immortal 'Madam Butterfly' and 'Turandot'. In the second part of the last century, the names of Benjamin Britten, Krzysztof Pendercki, Virgil Thomson, and Douglas Moore breathed a new life into the opera genre. Nowadays, composers Philip Glass and John Adams are transforming the art genre, enriching it with multimedia effects, notes about current political events, rock compositions, and other innovative details (A brief history of opera, 2013).

In conclusion, the operatic genre stands apart among musical genres, being a brilliant symbiosis of incompatible elements. According to a dictionary, opera is "a musical drama in which the dialogue is sung". Opera integrates peculiarities of a theatre, ballet, and music, such as acting, scenery, costumes and sometimes dance. Therefore, an orchestra accompanies a dramatic activity, an architecture and painting are represented in the design of opera houses, being resembled on the stage in forms of decorations and costumes for certain performances. Nevertheless, the key feature of opera is the magnificent music written for the several octaves of a human voice, highlighting the unique expression of people's emotions.

In fact, opera as an art form has passed the way from the court theatre to the public settings. Originated in Italy in the 16th century, it soon spread on the neighbor countries, establishing an essential element of the Western trend of classical music. First performances did not resemble modern operas that included entertainments and striking effects, such as fireworks and dances, staged on royal wedding days or greeting honorable guests. The Florentine Camerata revived the unique tendencies of the classical Greek art, combining music and drama. Moreover, the representatives of the Florentine Camerata developed the recitative. The plot of the first operatic compositions used mythological themes; its characters were aristocratic and appealed to noble ideals. In operas of the 17th and 18th centuries, visual effects were preferable to music. The 19th century was remarkable for enhancing the audience for opera and the following transformation of this genre. Nevertheless, some composers of the 19th century had different views on the operatic composition. Richard Wagner preferred the complete work representing acting of characters, staging performances, and melodies as an influential unity. His innovations included darkening the concert hall where the audience set during plays, and hiding the orchestra pit not to distract the spectators' attention from the actors' acting. At the end of the 19th century, opera was regarded as the art reflecting great ideals, heroic events, and diverse nations. At the beginning of the 20th century, Romanticism was still making a significant influence on the development of opera. Nowadays, composers Philip Glass and John Adams are transforming the art genre, enriching it with multimedia effects, notes about current political events, rock compositions, and other innovative details.

Tracing all this peculiarities, one can agree with the supporters of the classical variant of opera. Nevertheless, the modern tendencies in this extraordinary genre are developing it and, doubtless, they are enriching opera.

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