Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text (called a libretto) and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance.
Wagner wrote both the texts and the music of his music dramas... [and his] reforms did away with the "number" opera -- no longer was there any clear separation between recitative and aria, and ensembles in the Italian sense of the word are almost completely avoided. The orchestra is treated symphonically, with short themes or leitmotifs combined and developed endlessly during the course of the action.
It was Wagner's genius, and his gift for publicizing his genius, that persuaded the musical world of a highly suspect idea: that opera's future lay in the use of music merely to reinforce a dramatist's theatrical concept, in its integration into a dramatic unity known to Wagnerites as the gesamtkunstwerk , the total art work.
Born in Germany, Richard Wagner was an innovator who created large-scale operatic works that dramatize the legends and mythology of Nordic and Germanic culture. Wagner's operas are lengthy productions that challenge singers, as they require not only a sizable vocal range but also the ability to project over a large orchestra.
Opera [became] a world-wide art form with great operas emerging from a variety of countries [in the modern era]. Many modern operas concern the anxiety and alienation of twentieth-century life. Modern opera explores contemporary themes using techniques drawn from twentieth-century musical, visual, and narrative art forms.
The bel canto period is defined by beautiful singing. More than in any other style of opera, the music written during this period was created to showcase a singer’s range, power and flexibility. Opera stories of this time frequently focused on passion and romance. A leader in the bel canto style, Gioacchino Rossini is considered one of the most important Italian opera composers of the first half of the 19th century. Through his compositions, he reinvented the form and content of Italian opera.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, opera comique (or opera buffa as opposed to opera seria) was created in Naples. It became extremely popular and successful in the early years of the eighteenth century via the works of such composers as Pergolesi. His intermezzo La Serva padrona (1733) achieved enormous popularity and affected the subsequent history of opera. Opera buffa was characterized by a vigour, exuberance, spontaneity, directness and charming fluency.
By the 18th century opera had become the most widely cultivated musical form, with most major composers contributing to the repertory. The later Baroque period saw the cultivation of several different operatic styles, including opera seria (serious opera) and opera buffa (comic opera). Notable during this period were the composer Jean-Baptiste Lully in France and the nearly 50 powerful operas by George Frederick Handel.
The very first opera Dafne (now lost, except the prologue and one aria) was written in 1597-8 by Peri and in 1600, he composed Euridice (some parts by Caccini). The first opera that is still performed, however, belongs to Claudio Monteverdi: La favola d'Orfeo, first staged at Mantua in 1607.
Opera, whose name comes from the Italian word for a work, realizes the Baroque ambition of integrating all the arts. Music and drama are the fundamental ingredients, as are the arts of staging and costume design
In its origins, opera, like every other type of spectacle, expressed noble prerogatives and was staged in courtly settings. In seventeenth-century Italy, the birthplace of the form, lavish entertainments featuring fireworks and sensational effects as well as instrumental music, singing, dances, and speeches were staged to celebrate princely weddings or to welcome regal guests.