The History of Italian Opera

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  • Topic: Opera, Christoph Willibald Gluck, Italy
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The History of Italian Opera
There are many forms of art such as, paintings, sculptures, buildings, etc. Opera is another form of art though it may not seem like art to many people. “Few forms of art… are as overtly involved as opera in the social and historical contexts within which they are created and consumed” (Lindenberger 235). Italian opera which obviously formed in Italy is a form of art in the Italian language. It was introduced in Italy in the 1600s. Ironically many composers of Italian opera were from other areas of the world rather than Italy. However, there are many famous composers who were born and raised in Italy. These operas written by these composers are some of the most famous throughout the world. The magnificent feature of opera is the fact that it tells a story. “It may be described as sung drama, in which the theatrical force is carried by the music as well as the text” (Headington, Westbrook, Barfoot 11). The history of Italian opera shows the change in styles over the course of time and throughout society.

Origins of Italian Opera
This form of art through music was not something new that was taking place. In fact, this presentation dates all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Many composers tried to create works of art during the Renaissance. This ancient idea of the Greeks and their world was an inspiration and starting point for many of these artists and composers. For the Italians, this music was used to develop the text and was just another part of the performance. “…the Renaissance intellectuals who met in Florence and elsewhere after about 1750 seem to have been firm in their belief that classical plays were sung throughout, and so they placed the emphasis on vocal and musical aspects above all. From this error arose their fundamental concept of opera, which has, broadly speaking, remained our own” (Headington, Westbrook, Barfoot 12).

The 17th Century
The Renaissance brought about an abundance of creations and a mass use of one’s imagination. This establishment of creativity brought about by the Renaissance displayed itself in the city of Florence. “What was new in the works that emerged in Florence was the recognition that story and music were one artistic whole, and that the drama existed not only in the text and stage actions but also in the music” (Headington, Westbrook, Barfoot 20). The people of Florence considered this musical phenomenon to be one of their greatest attributes therefore making them very proud. All of the new ideas and ways of creating drama made this musical expansion possible. There was a sense of a form in music now that allowed for a basic structure. Instruments were capable of producing much more than ever capable of before. This allowed for a vast majority of different tones, textures, styles, and so on. Also, the fact that a persons voice could do so much more seemed to be one of the reasons why this presentation of drama in the form of opera was able to take off so successfully. People were educated and taught to use their voices and talents in ways they never thought possible. These talents stunned many composers and added to the excitement of the developing idea of Italian opera.

Claudio Monteverdi was the first and most prominent composer of Italian opera. He was born in Northern Italy and began studying music at an early age. He was world renown for his works that brought about the transition from the Renaissance to Baroque music. He is regarded as one of the key components in the changes that were taking place in music. Monteverdi wrote: “Contrasts are what move our souls, and this is what all good music aims at” (Headington, Westbrook, Barfoot 21). A strong tie between words and music was one of ideas that Monteverdi had pushed for. One of his popular operas was Orfeo which was performed better than any of those performed before it. There were more instruments, choruses, costumes, settings,...
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