How Music Opera Was Spread At

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


How did music and opera find its way around the world?

The Early Days of Opera

Opera was created in the late 16th century in Italy. It was originally an courtly entertainment for the nobility. However, it quickly spread throughout Europe and became one of the most popular forms of entertainment.

Opera in Italy

The first operas were written in Florence, Italy at the end of the 16th century. Opera quickly spread throughout Italy and then to other parts of Europe. By the early 17th century, opera had become a staple of court life and an important source of entertainment for the general public.

Opera reached its peak in the late 17th and early 18th centuries with the works of Italian composers such as Antonio Vivaldi, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, and Alessandro Scarlatti. These composers were able to skillfully blend the emotional power of music with the drama of theatre to create a truly new and innovative art form.

During this time, opera was also spreading beyond Italy’s borders. French composers such as Jean-Baptiste Lully and François Couperin were creating their own operatic works, while in Germany Dieterich Buxtehude and Heinrich Schütz were writing sacred operas. By the middle of the 18th century, opera was being performed all over Europe and had become one of the most popular forms of entertainment.

Opera in France

The first operas were written in Italy at the end of the 16th century, but it was in France that they became hugely popular in the 17th century. Louis XIV was a great admirer of Italian opera, and he oversaw the construction of several grand opera houses in Paris, including the Palais Garnier, which is still used today.

Opera quickly became a symbol of French culture, and its popularity only increased during the 18th century. Some of the most famous operas of all time were written during this period, including Jean-Philippe Rameau’s “Hippolyte et Aricie” (1733) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” (1786).

By the early 19th century, however, opera was starting to decline in popularity. Newer genres such as Romantic ballet and operetta were beginning to take its place. Nevertheless, French composers continued to write operas into the 20th century, and there are still many excellent French operas being performed today.

Opera in England

Opera in England began in the late sixteenth century with the first productions of works by composers such as John Taverner and William Byrd. These works were performed in private homes and at court. In 1623, a group of English gentlemen formed the Academy of Ancient Music, which began staging regular public performances of operas by Italian composers such as Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Claudio Monteverdi.

The first public opera house in England opened in 1633. It was called the Theatre Royal, located in Covent Garden. The following year, another opera house, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, opened its doors to the public. Over the next few decades, a number of other opera houses arose in London, including the Drury Lane Theatre and the King’s Theatre.

Opera remained extremely popular throughout the eighteenth century. George Frideric Handel was a major figure during this time period; he composed numerous operas that were widely performed throughout England and Europe. In 1728, he debuted his most famous work, Messiah, which is still regularly performed today.

The nineteenth century saw a decline in popularity for opera; however, it experienced a resurgence in the early twentieth century thanks to composers such as Giacomo Puccini and Giuseppe Verdi. Today, opera is enjoyed by people all over the world and continues to be a vital part of classical music.

The Spread of Opera

In the early days of Opera, it was very popular in Italy. It is said that the first Opera was performed in Venice in the year 1587. From there, Opera quickly spread to other parts of Europe.

Opera in Germany

Opera in Germany was spread through a variety of means, including traveling companies, court patronage, and public performances. Although the first German opera was not performed until 1627, the art form quickly gained popularity in the country.

One of the most important figures in early German opera was Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672), a composer who travelled to Italy to study under Giovanni Gabrieli. Schütz brought what he learned back to Germany, and his own compositions helped spread the popularity of opera in the country.

Opera also gained a foothold in Germany through the efforts of traveling companies that would perform in various towns and cities. These companies often consisted of Italian singers who were able to popularize the art form among German audiences.

Court patronage was another important factor in the spread of opera in Germany. Many German rulers were great patrons of the arts, and they often invited Opera companies to perform at their courts. This helped to make Opera more accessible to German audiences and further increased its popularity.

Finally, public performances also played a role in spreading Opera throughout Germany. In many cities, public Opera houses were built where people could go to see performances. This helped to make Opera more popular among ordinary people and helped it reach a wider audience.

Opera in Russia

During the reign of Peter the Great, Western opera was introduced into Russia. French and German companies frequently performed in Saint Petersburg, while native companies struggled to establish themselves. Mikhail Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar (1836) was the first Russian opera to find success both at home and abroad.

Opera in America

Opera in America began in the 18th century with the importation of Italian opera. New York City and Philadelphia became the main centers of opera in America, although there were also performances in other cities such as Boston and Charleston. Opera remained popular throughout the 19th century, although it was never as widely accepted as it was in Europe.

There were a number of reasons for this. First, American society was much more egalitarian than European society and there was less interest in what was seen as an aristocratic form of entertainment. Second, American opera companies often relied on European singers who were not always familiar with the English language, which made it difficult for audiences to follow the plot. Finally, American operas were often based on popular novels or stories that were already well known to American audiences, which made them less appealing than their European counterparts.

Despite these challenges, opera continued to be performed in America throughout the 19th century and into the 20th century. In the late 20th century, there was a resurgence of interest in opera and it has once again become a popular form of entertainment.

The Modern Opera

It was in the early part of the seventeenth century that a new type of musical entertainment began to make its way into the homes of the wealthy citizens of Italy. This new form of entertainment was called opera.

Opera in the 20th Century

(By the early 20th century, opera had spread across Europe and to the Americas. Opera became increasingly popular during the Romantic period (roughly 1800–1910). In England, George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) was a well-known composer of Italian operas, while in Italy operatic traditions were upheld by such composers as Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868), Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901), and Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924). Verdi’s Aida (1871), which tells the story of an Ethiopian princess enslaved in Egypt, was one of the most popular operas of its time. Whereas most 18th- and 19th-century operas were set in distant lands or long-ago times, Verdi’s La traviata (The Fallen Woman, 1853) took as its subject a woman of ill repute in contemporary Paris.

In Russia, Modest Mussorgsky (1839–81) created such masterpieces as Boris Godunov ( 1868/69), based on the life of a 16th-century Russian tsar, and Khovanshchina (1886), which deals with events leading up to Peter the Great’s seizure of power in 1682. The masterful elegance of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s( 1840–93) Russian opera Eugene Onegin( 1879), based on Alexander Pushkin’s poem of the same name, spring from his gift for writing memorable melodies.

Operas continued to be written in traditional styles during the early 20th century. But starting around 1910 a new type of opera emerged that would come to dominate the genre—the modernist opera. These works sought to break away from conventions such as multimovement vocal structures and brought new approaches to harmony, rhythm, and orchestration. The term atonality was coined at this time to describe works that lacked a tonal center—that is, a work in which no note could be said to be more important than any other note.)

Opera in the 21st Century

opera in the 21st century has been influenced by contemporary social issues such as multiculturalism, immigration, and gender equality. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of operas with female composers, directors, and librettists. These changes have helped opera become more relevant to modern audiences.

The popularity of opera has also grown in recent years thanks to streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu. These platforms have made it easier for people to watch opera from the comfort of their own homes. Additionally, many opera houses now offer live broadcasts of their productions, which can be seen by people around the world.

The 21st century has also seen a resurgence in interest in traditional opera. This is thanks in part to renewed appreciation for classical music and art forms. As a result, many young people are now studying opera and attending performances.

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