Test Your Knowledge of Opera

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What is opera?

A theatrical form of music where singers take on dramatic roles, accompanied by an orchestra or musical ensemble

When and where did opera originate?

Late 16th century in Italy

What are the two styles of singing in traditional opera?

Recitative and self-contained arias

Who dominated Italian opera in the mid-to-late 19th century?

Giuseppe Verdi

What is the difference between opera seria and Gluck's reform operas?

Opera seria was highly stylized and artificial, while Gluck's reform operas aimed to return to basics

Who is famous for his Italian comic operas?

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

What is zarzuela?

A distinctive form of opera from Spain

Who were the two composers who pioneered atonality and serialism in opera?

Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg

What is the classification of singers based on?

Tessitura, agility, power, and timbre of their voices

Study Notes

Overview of Opera

  • Opera is a theatrical form of music where singers take on dramatic roles, accompanied by an orchestra or musical ensemble.

  • The performance is given in an opera house and includes acting, scenery, costumes, and sometimes dance or ballet.

  • Opera originated in Italy in the late 16th century and soon spread throughout Europe.

  • Traditional opera includes two styles of singing, recitative, and self-contained arias.

  • The 19th century saw the rise of grand opera, typified by the works of Daniel Auber and Giacomo Meyerbeer.

  • Giuseppe Verdi dominated Italian opera in the mid-to-late 19th century, and Richard Wagner dominated German opera.

  • Opera seria was the most prestigious form of Italian opera until Christoph Willibald Gluck reacted against its artificiality with his "reform" operas in the 1760s.

  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is famous for his Italian comic operas, especially The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte.

  • The 20th century saw many experiments with modern styles, such as atonality and minimalism.

  • Operatic terminology includes the libretto, recitative, arias, and ensembles.

  • The Baroque period saw the rise of opera seria, which was elevated in tone and highly stylized in form.

  • Gluck's reforms in the 18th century aimed to return opera seria to basics, and Mozart combined a superb sense of drama, harmony, melody, and counterpoint to write a series of comic operas.A Brief History of Opera

  • Verdi produced his three most popular operas in the early 1850s: Rigoletto, Il trovatore, and La traviata.

  • La traviata is cited as one of the first "realistic" operas, focusing on the tragedies of ordinary life and society.

  • Verdi continued to develop his style, composing perhaps the greatest French grand opera, Don Carlos, and ending his career with two Shakespeare-inspired works, Otello and Falstaff.

  • Falstaff sets the preeminent standard for the form and style that would dominate opera throughout the twentieth century.

  • The sentimental "realistic" melodrama of verismo appeared in Italy after Verdi.

  • German opera was generally composed for the masses and tended to feature simple folk-like melodies.

  • Mozart's Singspiele were an important breakthrough in achieving international recognition for German opera.

  • Wagner evolved a new concept of opera as a Gesamtkunstwerk, a fusion of music, poetry, and painting.

  • French tragédie en musique was founded by Jean-Baptiste Lully at the court of King Louis XIV.

  • Grand opera was founded by Rossini's Guillaume Tell, and Meyerbeer's works emphasised virtuoso singing and extraordinary stage effects.

  • Jacques Offenbach created operetta with witty and cynical works such as Orphée aux enfers.

  • English opera's antecedent was the 17th-century jig.

  • Henry Purcell's best work was usually within the constraints of the semi-opera format.National Operas Around the World

  • Opera was introduced to England in the 17th century, but it was not until the 18th century that English composers began to create their own unique style of opera, with Thomas Arne being one of the first to experiment with Italian-style all-sung comic opera.

  • George Frideric Handel dominated the English opera scene in the 18th century, with his opera serias filling London stages for decades and influencing most home-grown composers.

  • In the 20th century, English opera gained more independence, with works from composers like Benjamin Britten and Sir Harrison Birtwistle.

  • Russian opera was brought to Russia in the 1730s by Italian operatic troupes and it soon became an important part of entertainment for the Russian Imperial Court and aristocracy.

  • The real birth of Russian opera came with Mikhail Glinka and his two great operas A Life for the Tsar and Ruslan and Lyudmila.

  • Czech composers developed their own national opera movement in the 19th century, starting with Bedřich Smetana, who wrote eight operas including The Bartered Bride.

  • Leoš Janáček gained international recognition in the 20th century for his innovative works, which incorporated his earlier studies of national folk music in a modern, highly original synthesis.

  • Spain produced its own distinctive form of opera, known as zarzuela, which had two separate flowerings: one from the mid-17th century through the mid-18th century, and another beginning around 1850.

  • Ukrainian opera was developed by Semen Hulak-Artemovsky, and other Ukrainian opera composers include Mykola Lysenko, Heorhiy Maiboroda, and Yuliy Meitus.

  • Ferenc Erkel was the key figure of Hungarian national opera in the 19th century, with his works mostly dealing with historical themes.

  • The first known opera from Turkey was Arshak II, which was an Armenian opera composed by an ethnic Armenian composer Tigran Chukhajian in 1868 and partially performed in 1873.

  • Opera in Latin America started as a result of European colonization, with the first opera ever written in the Americas being La púrpura de la rosa, by Tomás de Torrejón y Velasco.

  • Operatic modernism truly began in the operas of two Viennese composers, Arnold Schoenberg and his student Alban Berg, both composers and advocates of atonality and its later development, serialism.Overview of Opera History and Development

  • Schoenberg's early musico-dramatic works, Erwartung and Die glückliche Hand, display heavy use of chromatic harmony, dissonance, and occasionally used Sprechstimme.

  • Schoenberg's theories have influenced significant numbers of opera composers, including Benjamin Britten, Hans Werner Henze, and Dmitri Shostakovich.

  • Operatic modernism's use of atonality sparked a backlash in the form of neoclassicism, with Ferruccio Busoni and Igor Stravinsky as early leaders of this movement.

  • Many 20th-century operas were commissioned and performed with smaller budgets, resulting in chamber-sized works, and short, one-act operas.

  • Contemporary historical operas have emerged, dramatizing events in recent living memory, such as The Death of Klinghoffer, Nixon in China, and Doctor Atomic by John Adams, Dead Man Walking by Jake Heggie, and Anna Nicole by Mark-Anthony Turnage.

  • Many opera companies have attempted to attract a younger audience to halt the trend of greying audiences for classical music.

  • Some smaller companies have found ways of drawing new audiences, such as broadcasts of live performances to movie theaters.

  • Some musicals began to be written with a more operatic structure in the late 1930s, such as Porgy and Bess and Candide.

  • Acoustic enhancement is used in some modern concert halls and theaters where operas are performed.

  • Singers and the roles they play are classified by voice type, based on the tessitura, agility, power, and timbre of their voices.

  • Famous singers who gained international renown from the 17th century to the present day include Maria Callas, Enrico Caruso, and Luciano Pavarotti.

  • Before the 1700s, Italian operas used a small string orchestra, but it rarely played to accompany the singers. The string orchestra typically only played when the singer was not singing.

Are you a fan of opera, or are you curious to learn more about this theatrical form of music? Test your knowledge with our Opera Overview quiz, where you'll explore the history and development of opera, national operas around the world, famous singers, and more. Challenge yourself with questions about famous works, composers, and terminology. Expand your understanding of this beautiful and complex art form. Take the Opera Overview quiz now!

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