The History of Opera

An opera is a drama in which all or part of the dialogue is sung. Opera began in Italy in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Early versions of operas included madrigals in which scenes involving dialogue, but no stage action, were set to music. Opera itself was developed by a group of musicians and scholars called the Camerata (Italian for salon) who wanted to revive the musical style of ancient Greek drama and develop an alternative to Renaissance music.

The Camerata developed a style of vocal music called monody (Greek for solo song), consisting of simple melodies with musical rhythms that followed the spoken rhythms of the text. The melody was accompanied by basso continue - a series of chords on a harpsichord or other instruments.

Opera spread and developed quickly throughout Italy, especially in Rome and Venice. The chief Roman composers were Stefano Landi and Luigi Rossi. Venetian audiences liked lavish stage settings and spectacular visual effects, such as storms and descents of the gods from heaven. Opera also flourished in Germany. In the late 17th and early 18 centuries, the most important German operatic centre was Hamburg where an opera house was opened in 1678.

Opera has always been vocal. In the 20th century, however, emphasis has also been placed on the operatic ensemble, with the conductor, the scenic designer, and the stage director assuming roles at least coequal with the singers. A growth in multimedia production techniques has paralleled the increase in electronic and synthesizer music by modern composers. In both standard theatres and experimental workshops, opera seems to be regaining the place it had held in the 17th century as a prominent art form.

WHAT IS OPERA ? An opera is a musical drama or comedy in which the actors sing rather than speak their lines. "Opera" is derived from the Italian word opus, which means a work of art. An opera tells a story. It can come from many sources, such as, history, current events, Bible, magical and fairy tales, literature, poetry, and mythology. Opera can be funny, sad, dramatic, mysterious, imaginary, or a combination of these. Opera combines many art forms: singing, orchestra, music, acting, dancing, mime, costumes, scenic design, painting, lighting, and makeup design. Characters are people in the story. Singers perform all of the characters. The Composer writes the music for the opera; both for the orchestra and the singers.

     The Music Director (Maestro) is responsible for the interpretation of the score and is also usually the Conductor.
     The Soprano is the highest female voice and most of the time she is in love with the tenor.
     A Mezzo-Soprano is the second highest female voice and typically has a darker warmer voice than the soprano. She plays a character part like a witch, a mother or friend of the soprano.
     Alto is the lowest female voice. She often portrays an old woman, who can either be wise and good or a witch.
     Tenor is the highest male voice. The tenor is usually the hero in an opera and is generally in love with the soprano.
     Baritone is the next lowest, or middle, male voice. The baritone is often a villain, but can sometimes be a hero. In comedy the Baritone usually pulls all kinds of pranks. He is often in love with the soprano, but usually loses her to the tenor.

     Bass is the lowest of the male voices. He often plays a wise man or a comic character.
     Aria is a composition for solo (one) voice.
     Legato  Means sung in a smoothly gliding manner.
     Libretto  A book containing the words of an opera.
     Orchestra Pit  The area near the stage that houses the instruments and conductor.
     Podium  An elevated platform for orchestra's conductor.
     Tempo  The speed of the music, ranging from very slow (largo) to very fast (prestissimo)    
     Supers appear on stage in costume in non-singing and non-speaking roles.
     The Orchestra is the group of instrumentalists who accompany the singers.
     The Chorus is a group of singers who function as a unit on stage. Choruses can be for mixed voices, men only, women only, or children. They are usually featured in crowd scenes where they can play townspeople, soldiers, pilgrims, etc.
     Dancers are often included in an opera. They are usually part of crowd scenes, but can be featured in solo roles. Many opera include a ballet.