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Origins in the Baroque

In its origins, opera, like every other type of spectacle, expressed noble
prerogatives and was staged in courtly settings.
In seventeenth-century Italy, the birthplace of the form, music, singing and dance
were used to celebrate princely weddings or to welcome regal guests.
Though, they werent not operas technically, these integrated entertainments
fostered collaboration among the arts and was the basis on which opera was built.
The Florentine Camerata, in 1600s, set out to revive the great traditions of the
classical Greek stage, in which music and drama reinforced each other. Toward this
end, they developed recitative, a type of sung speech featuring the solo voice.
Early operas, largely based on mythological themes and peopled with noble
characters, which promoted aristocratic ideals.
Claudio Monteverdi (15671643), who used recitative as well as lyrical solos,
madrigals, and instrumental color in operas on a variety of classical themes, is
considered the first genius of operatic composition, and his "favola in
musica" Orfeo (1607) is often seen as the first true opera. Although Monteverdi
spent the early part of his career writing for the dukes of Mantua, his last works were
intended for the public opera houses of Venice, the first of which opened in 1637.
The public became and still remains the primary audience for the opera,
although court productions continued to be devised wherever courts existed.
Opera in the Rococo Period
By the end of the eighteenth century, opera was an international phenomenon, and
both comic and serious genres flourished in France, England, and the Habsburg
empire as well as in Italy, although Italian remained the standard language of the
libretto.
Under composers such as Jean-Philippe Rameau (16831764) and George
Frederic Handel (16851759), the orchestra expanded to include woodwind
instruments, horns, and drums in addition to the original strings.
The castrato soprano voice was frequently given the hero's part, and castrati were
among the greatest stars of the period. The magnificently ornamented music
written for such virtuoso singers thrilled audiences but also diminished the
dramatic element of opera and provoked calls for reform. These were answered by
Christoph Willibald von Gluck (17141787), whose Orfeo ed Euridice of 1762
recasts the time-honored operatic story of the artist whose song can thwart
death itself.
Opera in the Classical Period
The reinvigoration of opera at the end of the eighteenth century was assured by
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (17561791), whose music for voices and orchestra is
alive with dramatic purpose. Prominent examples include The Marriage of
Figaro (1786), Don Giovanni (1787), and The Magic Flute (1791). All of which were
collaboration with the librettist Lorenzo da Ponte.