History of Opera/What is Opera?

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OPERA¹

/ˈɒp(ə)rə/

noun: opera; plural noun: operas

• a dramatic work in one or more acts, set to music for singers and instrumentalists.

• operas as a genre of classical music.

• a building for the performance of opera.

Etymology

mid 17th century: from Italian, from Latin, literally "labour, work"

OPERA²

/ˈɒp(ə)rə/

noun

plural noun: opera

plural form of opus.

OPUS

noun

plural noun: opera

• music, a separate composition or set of compositions.

• an artistic work, especially one on a large scale.

Etymology

early 18th century: from Latin, literally "work".


Opera is a dramatic story told through song. It is considered by many to be the most complete art form, combining all of the elements of art, words, music, drama and dance. The earliest Italian operas were called several things, such as “favola in musica” (fable in music) and “dramma per musica” (drama by means of music). This last title is very close to the dictionary definition, and is the correct basis for any discussion about opera. The unique thing in opera is the use of music to convey an entire story/plot. This is based on the feeling that music can communicate people’s reactions and emotions better than words (read or spoken) or pictures. Opera takes any type of dramatic story and tries to make it more exciting and more believable with the help of music.

The concept of opera was developing many years before the first opera was written. Its beginning can be traced to the ancient Greeks. They fused poetry and music, creating plays that incorporated song, spoken language and dance, accompanied by string or wind instruments. In the 1100s, the early Christian church set religious stories to music, a style known as liturgical drama. The first true opera, Daphne, was composed by Jacopo Peri (1561-1633). It told the story of a Greek myth. The first great composer of opera was Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643). Some of his operas are still performed today.

Italy was the first country where opera became popular. It was the homeland of Jacopo Peri and Claudio Monteverdi. In time, this exciting form of entertainment spread to the rest of Europe. France and Germany joined Italy as the principal opera producers.