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Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work (called an opera) which combines a text (called a libretto) and a musical score. Opera is part of the Western classical music tradition. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery and costumes and sometimes includes dance. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble.

Opera started in Italy at the end of the 16th century (with Jacopo Peri's lost Dafne, produced in Florence around 1597), and was championed by Claudio Monteverdi with works such as L'Orfeo. It soon spread through the rest of Europe: Schütz in Germany, Lully in France, and Purcell in England all helped to establish their national traditions in the 17th century. However, in the 18th century, Italian opera continued to dominate most of Europe, except France, attracting foreign composers such as Handel. Opera seria was the most prestigious form of Italian opera, until Gluck reacted against its artificiality with his "reform" operas in the 1760s. Today the most renowned figure of late 18th century opera is Mozart, who began with opera seria but is most famous for his Italian comic operas, especially The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte, as well as The Magic Flute, a landmark in the German tradition.

The first third of the 19th century saw the highpoint of the bel canto style, with Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini all creating works that are still performed today. It also saw the advent of Grand Opera typified by the works of Meyerbeer. The mid to late 19th century is considered by some a golden age of opera, led by Wagner in Germany and Verdi in Italy. This 'golden age' developed through the verismo era in Italy and contemporary French opera through to Puccini and Strauss in the early 20th century. During the 19th century, parallel operatic traditions emerged in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in Russia and Bohemia. The 20th century saw many experiments with modern styles, such as atonality and serialism (Schoenberg and Berg), Neo-Classicism (Stravinsky), and Minimalism (Philip Glass and John Adams). With the rise of recording technology, singers such as Enrico Caruso became known to audiences beyond the circle of opera fans. Operas were also performed on (and written for) radio and television.

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Selected article

Portrait of the castrato singer Senesino
"Va tacito e nascosto" ("Silently and stealthily") is an aria from George Frideric Handel's opera Giulio Cesare in Egitto, composed in 1724 to a libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym. It is set as a da capo aria and is sung by the character Julius Caesar in Act 1, Scene 9 of the opera. The aria is scored for strings and natural horn in F major and features extensive natural horn solos. The vocal part is written for the alto castrato voice and was sung at the premiere by the celebrated castrato Senesino (pictured). In modern productions it is often sung by a countertenor voice, but has been sung in productions and recordings by both males and females, in registers from bass to soprano. Handel's original draft of the first act prepared the aria for a different character. With a slightly variant text, it was allocated to Cleopatra's cousin Berenice, who urged Cleopatra to stalk Caesar like a crafty hunter to make him enamoured of her. The character of Berenice was subsequently deleted from the libretto.
The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania
The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania
The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania, Joseph Noel Paton's 1849 painting which depicts a central scene from Shakespeare's comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream. The play has had several operatic adaptations, most notably Purcell's The Fairy-Queen and Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Britten's opera premiered in 1960 with Alfred Deller as Oberon and Jennifer Vyvyan as Titania.

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Pietro Mascagni

Selected biography

Strubenholm, the home of the SA College of Music
Professor Erik William Chisholm (4 January 1904 8 June 1965) was a Scottish composer and conductor often known as "Scotland’s forgotten composer". According to his biographer, Chisholm "was the first composer to absorb Celtic idioms into his music in form as well as content, his achievement paralleling that of Bartók in its depth of understanding and its daring", which led to his nickname of "MacBartók". He was also a founder of the Celtic Ballet and, together with Margaret Morris, created the first full-length Scottish ballet, The Forsaken Mermaid. He was also the dean and director of the South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town for 19 years. Chisholm founded the South African College of Music opera company in Cape Town and was a vital force in bringing new operas to Scotland, England and South Africa. By the time of his death in 1965, he had composed over a hundred works.

Selected quote

Leigh Hunt
Rossini, in music, is the genius of sheer animal spirits. It is a species as inferior to that of Mozart, as the cleverness of a smart boy is to that of a man of sentiment; but it is genius nevertheless.

Selected audio

1912 recording by Enrico Caruso and Geraldine Farrar of a scene from act 2 of Jules Massenet's Manon (1884).

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Libretto cover of Margot


Main topics

Opera history: Origins of opera  Italian opera  Opera in German  French opera  Opera in English  Polish opera  Russian opera  Hungarian opera  Armenian opera  Opera in Latin America

Opera topics

Opera genres: Azione teatrale · Ballad opera · Comédie en vaudevilles · Comédie mêlée d'ariettes · Dramma giocoso · Dramma per musica · Farsa · Festa teatrale · Género chico · Grand Opera · Music Drama · Opéra-ballet · Opera buffa · Opéra bouffe · Opéra bouffon · Opéra comique · Opéra féerie · Opera semiseria · Opera seria · Operetta · Pastorale héroïque · Romantische Oper · Savoy opera · Semi-opera · Singspiel · Spieloper · Tragédie en musique · Verismo · Zarzuela · Zeitoper

Opera terms: Aria · Aria di sorbetto · Arioso · Bel canto · Breeches role · Burletta · Cabaletta · Cadenza · Cantabile · Castrato · Cavatina · Chest voice · Claque · Coloratura · Comprimario · Convenienze · Coup de glotte · Da capo aria · Diva · Entr'acte · Fach · Falsetto · Fioritura · Gesamtkunstwerk · Head voice · Intermezzo · Kammersänger · Leitmotif · Legato · Libretto · Literaturoper · Mad scene · Maestro · Melodrama · Melodramma · Monodrama · Messa di voce · Opera house · Passaggio · Portamento · Prima donna · Prompter · Recitative · Regietheater · Répétiteur · Sitzprobe · Spinto · Sprechgesang · Squillo · Stagione · Surtitles · Tessitura · Timbre · Vibrato

Opera voices: Baritenor · Baritone · Bass · Bass-baritone · Coloratura soprano · Contralto · Countertenor · Dramatic soprano · Haute-contre · Lyric soprano · Mezzo-soprano · Soprano · Soubrette · Spinto soprano · Tenor · Tenore contraltino · Tenore di grazia

Opera lists: Opera topics  List of operas by composer  Important operas  Major opera composers  Opera librettists  Opera houses  Opera companies  Opera festivals  Opera directors  Operetta composers  Orphean operas  Zarzuela composers  Opera genres  Operas set in the Crusades  The Record of Singing  Bayreuth canon


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In the Loge by Mary Cassatt

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