A Brief History of Opera Music

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


A quick and easy guide to the history of opera music, from its origins in Italy to its present-day popularity.

Origins of Opera

Opera is a genre of musical theatre that combines singing and spoken dialogue, usually in a dramatic context. The word “opera” is short for the Italian word “opera in musica”, which means “work in music”. Opera originated in Italy in the 16th century, and the first opera house was built in Venice in 1637.

Ancient Greece

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theatre. The word opera is derived from the Italian word opere, meaning “works”. first used in the musical and theatrical sense in 1639. Ancient Greece

One of the earliest references to music drama dates back to ancient Greece. In his Poetics, Aristotle cites a work called Thespis, believed to have been written by the poet Pratinas in the 6th century BCE. Though no copy of Thespis has survived, we know that it was imitate dith dialogue and dance and that it included singing – in other words, it was an early form of musical theatre.

Ancient Rome

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theatre. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.

Opera originated in Italy at the end of the 16th century and soon spread through the rest of Europe: Johann Sebastian Bach wrote some of the earliest works in the genre, called Passions, which were performed in churches during Holy Week. George Frideric Handel was particularly successful with his English-language operas, written for London audiences in the early 18th century. In Russia, Mikhail Glinka laid the foundations for a national school of opera with his works A Life for the Tsar (1836) and Ruslan and Lyudmila (1842), while Gaetano Donizetti did likewise in Italy with his comedy L’elisir d’amore (1832). Giuseppe Verdi established himself as one of the greatest operatic composers of all time with masterpieces such as Rigoletto (1851), Il trovatore (1853) and Aida (1871). French composers from this period, such as Hector Berlioz and Georges Bizet, also wrote groundbreaking works in the genre.

The tradition of Italian opera continued into the 20th century with composers such as Giacomo Puccini and Verdi’s contemporary Pietro Mascagni, who wrote Cavalleria rusticana in 1890. In the early years of the 20th century, opera compositions by Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel were also groundbreaking. Opera about contemporary subjects by composers such as Paul Hindemith and Kurt Weill became popular in Germany and Austria during the 1920s and 1930s; Weill’s The Threepenny Opera (1928) was particularly successful.

The Renaissance

Opera is a form of drama that is sung throughout and usually has interludes of instrumental music. It arose in the late 16th century, primarily in Italy, and the first opera that was ever written was Dafne by Jacopo Peri. Opera quickly spread throughout Europe and by the early 17th century, there were opera houses in almost every major city.

The Birth of Opera

The first opera was Dafne, composed by Jacopo Peri in 1597. It was produced in Florence, Italy and has since been lost. The first surviving opera is Euridice, also composed by Peri. It premiered in Rome in 1600.

Opera is a form of musical theatre that combines music, singing, dance, and drama. It originated in Italy in the late 16th century and quickly spread to other European countries. Opera became increasingly popular in the 18th century, with works by many famous composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Sebastian Bach. In the 19th century, opera continued to grow in popularity, with composers such as Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner creating some of the most famous operas ever written. Today, opera is enjoyed by people all over the world.

The First Operas

The first operas were produced in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, in Italy. The Italian word opera means “work” or “labor.” These early operas were sometimes called “drammi per musica” (dramas for music). The first opera was Dafne, by Jacopo Peri, which was performed in Florence in 1598. The first opera that is still performed today is Orfeo ed Euridice, by Christoph Willibald Gluck. It was first performed in Vienna in 1762.

Opera began as a combination of two art forms that already existed: drama and music. The earliest operas were more like plays with music, rather than what we think of as opera today. In early opera, the story was told through the lyrics (text) of the songs, which were called recitative. Recitative was usually accompanied by simple piano music, or just a bass line played on an instrument called a basso continuo.

The Baroque Era

The origins of opera can be traced back to the Baroque era in the 1600s. At that time, opera was a combination of music, drama, and visual arts. The first ever opera was Dafne, which was performed in Florence in 1598. Opera quickly became popular in Italy and soon spread to other countries in Europe.

The Rise of Italian Opera

The early 17th century in Italy saw the rise of a new musical genre, Opera. This new form of musical theatre combined vocal and instrumental music, drama, and visual spectacle. The first operas were written in the late 1600s by a group of composers known as the “Florence Camerata.” Their goal was to recreate the ancient Greek tradition of using music and drama to tell a story.

One of the earliest and most important operas was Dafne, written by Jacopo Peri in 1597. Dafne was based on a Greek myth, and it is considered to be the first opera ever written. Other early operas include Euridice (1600) by Jacopo Peri, and Orfeo (1607) by Claudio Monteverdi. These works laid the foundation for Italian opera, which would go on to become one of the most popular forms of entertainment in Europe.

Opera quickly spread from Italy to other parts of Europe. The first opera house outside of Italy was built in Hamburg, Germany in 1678. By the early 1700s, there were over 50 opera houses in Europe. Opera became increasingly popular among all social classes, and it wasn’t long before this new art form had taken over the Continent.

The French Baroque Opera

The French Baroque opera is a style of opera that originated in France in the early 1700s. It was a reaction to the Italian style of opera, which was the dominant form of opera at that time. The French Baroque Opera is characterized by its use of the declamatory style of singing, as opposed to the more lyrical Italian style. This type of opera is also known for its use of spectacle and for its dramatic plots. Some of the most famous French Baroque operas include Jean-Baptiste Lully’s “Armide” and François Couperin’s “La Princesse de Clèves”.

The Classical Era

The Classical era was a period of musical history that lasted from around 1750 to 1820. This era saw the rise of classical music as we know it today. opera music played an important role in the development of classical music. The classical era is sometimes referred to as the “Age of Enlightenment” because it was a time when many philosophical, political, and social ideas were being developed.

The Italian Opera

Opera began in Italy in the late 16th century and quickly spread throughout Europe. The first Italian opera was Jacopo Peri’s Euridice, which was premiered in Florence in 1597. Italian opera became increasingly popular, and by the early 17th century, several cities in Italy had their own opera houses.

Opera soon became a highly stylized and formal form of entertainment, with elaborate costumes and sets, and strict rules governing the music and performance. The Italian opera became the model for opera houses across Europe.

The most famous Italian operas include Verdi’s Rigoletto and Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. Italian opera continues to be popular today, with world-renowned operas such as La Scala in Milan attracting fans from all over the world.

The German Opera

During the German Opera, many famous composers such as Georg Frederic Handel, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Heinrich Schütz emerged and created a new style of opera that was based on the emotions and inner experiences of the characters instead of just focusing on the plot. This type of opera is known as Singspiel, and some of the most famous works from this era include The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro. Another popular German Opera composer was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who wrote some of the most well-known operas such as The Magic Flute and Don Giovanni.

The Romantic Era

The Romantic era was a time of great change and upheaval in opera. New technologies and artistic styles led to a new breed of opera, which was more expressive and emotionally charged than ever before. This article will explore the origins of opera music and how it developed during the Romantic era.

The Italian Opera

In the early 1800’s, Italian Opera was all the rage. Italian composers such as Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini all wrote operas that were hugely popular with audiences. What made Italian opera so special?

One of the things that made Italian opera so popular was the fact that it was very accessible to audiences. The plots of Italian operas tended to be very simple, and the music was very melody-driven. This made it easy for audiences to follow along and feel emotionally invested in the characters and stories.

Another reason Italian opera was so popular was that the singers tended to be extremely talented. Many of the greatest opera singers of all time were Italians, such as Enrico Caruso and Maria Callas. These singers had a incredible ability to connect with their audiences and convey emotion through their singing.

If you’re interested in learning more about Italian opera, there are many great resources available. You can start by listening to some of the greatest Italian operas, such as “La Traviata” by Verdi or “Don Giovanni” by Mozart. You can also read about the history of Italian opera in books or online.

The French Opera

The French Opera is a genre of opera that originated in France in the late 17th century and continued until the middle of the 18th century. The first operas were written for private audiences in noble houses, but by the early 18th century, they were being performed in public theaters. The French Opera was characterized by its on-stage action, which was often highly stylized and sensational. The plots of French Operas were often based on Greek or Roman mythology, or on popular tales from the Middle Ages.

The most important composer of French Opera was Jean-Baptiste Lully, who wrote several highly successful works in the genre, including Le bourgeois gentilhomme (1670) and Cadmus et Hermione (1673). Other notable composers of French Opera include Jean-Philippe Rameau and André Campra.

The German Opera

During the 17th and early 18th centuries, opera in Germany was strongly influenced by the French style established by Jean-Baptiste Lully. German composers such as Heinrich Schütz, Georg Philipp Telemann, and Johann Sebastian Bach wrote works in the Baroque style, but their influence on subsequent German opera composers was limited. In the late 18th century, a new generation of German composers, including Carl Friedrich Zelter and Johann Friedrich Reichardt, began to inject elements of folk music into their operas. These composers helped to prepare the way for the great wave of German Romantic opera composers that emerged in the early 19th century.

The most important figure in early 19th-century German Romantic opera is Carl Maria von Weber. His operas Der Freischütz (1821) and Euryanthe (1823) are considered masterpieces of the genre. Both works make use of folk materials—melodies, rhythms, and even whole scenes—and both embody the ideal of “die Musik der Freiheit” (the music of freedom), a hallmark of German Romanticism. Weber’s contemporary Andreas Steinmetz also wrote operas in the Romantic vein, but his greatest contribution to the genre was his advocacy for Wagnerian principles; it was Steinmetz who first suggested to Wagner that he set Goethe’s Faust to music.

Other notable early 19th-century German Romantic opera composers include Giacomo Meyerbeer, whose grandiose spectacles Les Huguenots (1836) and Le prophète (1849) were enormously popular in their day; Friedrich von Flotow, whose Martha (1847) remains one of the most frequently performed works from the period; and Gottfried August Homilius, whose oratorio Johannes-Passion (1780) prefigures some of Wagner’s greatest achievements.

The Modern Era

The Italian Opera

In the late 17th century, a new form of Italian opera emerged, which incorporated elements of the French ballets of Jean-Baptiste Lully. This new form, known as Opera seria (“serious opera”), tended to be didactic and abstruse, dealing with philosophical or historical subjects. The first such work was Alessandro Scarlatti’s Mitridate Eupatore (1694), which was based on an ancient Greek tragedy. Other works in this style include Johann Christian Bach’s Orione (1763) and Giovanni Paisiello’s Nina, o sia La pazza per amore (1789). These works were very long (as many as five hours in the case of Mitridate), often contained recitatives accompanied only by continuo, and were structured in large formal units called da capo arias.

The French Opera

Opera music has undergone a number of changes since it was first created in the 1700s. One of the most significant changes occurred in the early 1800s when French opera began to dominate the European opera scene.

French opera was characterized by its cerebral nature and intellectual themes. Many of the most famous opera composers of the time, such as Hector Berlioz and Georges Bizet, were French.

While French opera was very popular in Europe, it never really caught on in other parts of the world. In the United States, for example, Italian opera was far more popular than French opera. Nevertheless, the influence of French opera can still be felt in modern operas.

The German Opera

The German Opera is a style of opera that originated in Germany in the late 17th century. It was initially developed by a group of composers known as the Mannheim school, which included such luminaries as Johann Stamitz and Johann Melchior Molter. German opera quickly spread throughout Europe, becoming one of the most popular forms of opera in the 18th century.

Some of the most famous German operas include Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, and Weber’s Der Freischütz. These works are still regularly performed today and continue to be hugely popular with audiences.

Similar Posts