Opera History

Opera is an Italian form of art music that spread throughout Europe.

Opera Periods

The development of Opera roughly follows the periods of Classical music, which in turn reflect the social changes stirring the world.


16 Century Beginnings (1600 – 1750)

Opera began as an attempt by the Florentine Camerata, a group of intellectuals in Florence Italy, to revive the original form of Greek drama. They believed that Greek drama was sung throughout. Jacopo Peri composed Dafne, considered the first opera, in 1597. It was popular.


Baroque Period (1750 – 1800)

Italian courts began performing operas for the entertainment of distinguished guests. Opera spread across Italy. The first opera house opened in Venice in 1637. This brought courtly entertainment to the masses, and encouraged other cities to open their own opera houses.

Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo is the most famous Baroque Opera.

Operas from this period were serious stories (opera seria).


Classical Period Opera (1750 – 1800)

Opera changed in the Classical Period.

Comedy (opera buffa) lightened the tone of opera.

Composers began to be influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment. They made operas that were simpler and more natural.

Mozart (1756 – 1791) put the trends together in his trio of classic operatic comedies: Nozze di Figaro (1786), Don Giovanni (1787), and Così fan Tutte (1790).


Romantic Period Opera  (1800 – 1890)

The French Revolution (1789 – 1799) changed everything. It expanded the possibilities of operatic stories.

Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini composed lyrical scores in what became known as the Bel Canto style (beautiful singing).

Verdi (Italian, 1813 – 1901) dominated  the second half of the 19th century with Rigoletto (1851), Il Trovatore (1855), La Traviata (1855), Otello (1887), and Falstaff (1893).

Wagner revolutionized the form with his large-scale mythological operas including Der Ring des Nibelungen (1876) and Parsifal (1882).


Verismo Opera (1890 – 1920)

Verismo Opera was a period of renewal of the form in which composers took a realistic approach to their stories. Puccini (1858 – 1924) dominated this tradition with La Bohème (1896), Tosca (1900), and Madama Butterfly (1904).


20th Century Opera (1900 – 2000)

The popularity of Opera began to fail as the world blew itself up in World War I (1914 – 1918) and World War II (1939 – 1945).

The Post-War years opened up so many possibilities that contemporary Opera may no longer be recognizable as Opera.


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