Italian opera

Italian opera is both the art of opera in Italy and opera in the Italian language. Opera was born in Italy around the year 1600 and Italian opera has continued to play a dominant role in the history of the form until the present day. Many famous operas in Italian were written by foreign composers, including Handel, Gluck and Mozart. Works by native Italian composers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini, are amongst the most famous operas ever written and today are performed in opera houses across the world.

Interior of La Fenice in 1837. Original at Museo Correr
Interior of La Fenice opera house in Venice in 1837. Venice was, along with Florence and Rome, one of the cradles of Italian opera.

Origins

Jacopo Peri 1
Jacopo Peri as Arion in La pellegrina

Dafne by Jacopo Peri was the earliest composition considered opera, as understood today.[1] Peri's works, however, did not arise out of a creative vacuum in the area of sung drama. An underlying prerequisite for the creation of opera proper was the practice of monody. Monody is the solo singing/setting of a dramatically conceived melody, designed to express the emotional content of the text it carries, which is accompanied by a relatively simple sequence of chords rather than other polyphonic parts. Italian composers began composing in this style late in the 16th century, and it grew in part from the long-standing practise of performing polyphonic madrigals with one singer accompanied by an instrumental rendition of the other parts, as well as the rising popularity of more popular, more homophonic vocal genres such as the frottola and the villanella. In these latter two genres, the increasing tendency was toward a more homophonic texture, with the top part featuring an elaborate, active melody, and the lower ones (usually these were three-part compositions, as opposed to the four-or-more-part madrigal) a less active supporting structure. From this, it was only a small step to fully-fledged monody. All such works tended to set humanist poetry of a type that attempted to imitate Petrarch and his Trecento followers, another element of the period's tendency toward a desire for restoration of principles it associated with a mixed-up notion of antiquity.

The solo madrigal, frottola, villanella and their kin featured prominently in the intermedio or intermezzo, theatrical spectacles with music that were funded in the last seventy years of the 16th century by the opulent and increasingly secular courts of Italy's city-states. Such spectacles were usually staged to commemorate significant state events: weddings, military victories, and the like, and alternated in performance with the acts of plays. Like the later opera, an intermedio featured the aforementioned solo singing, but also madrigals performed in their typical multi-voice texture, and dancing accompanied by the present instrumentalists. They were lavishly staged, and led the scenography of the second half of the 16th century. The intermedi tended not to tell a story as such, although they occasionally did, but nearly always focused on some particular element of human emotion or experience, expressed through mythological allegory.

The staging in 1600 of Peri's opera Euridice as part of the celebrations for a Medici wedding, the occasions for the most spectacular and internationally famous intermedi of the previous century, was probably a crucial development for the new form, putting it in the mainstream of lavish courtly entertainment.

Another popular court entertainment at this time was the "madrigal comedy", later also called "madrigal opera" by musicologists familiar with the later genre. This consisted of a series of madrigals strung together to suggest a dramatic narrative, but not staged.[2] There were also two staged musical "pastoral"s, Il Satiro and La Disperazione di Fileno, both produced in 1590 and written by Emilio de' Cavalieri. Although these lost works seem only to have included arias, with no recitative, they were apparently what Peri was referring to, in his preface to the published edition of his Euridice, when he wrote: "Signor Emilio del Cavalieri, before any other of whom I know, enabled us to hear our kind of music upon the stage".[3] Other pastoral plays had long included some musical numbers; one of the earliest, La fabula d'Orfeo (1480) by Poliziano had at least three solo songs and one chorus.[4]

17th century

Florence and Mantua

Bernardo Strozzi - Claudio Monteverdi (c.1630)
Claudio Monteverdi by Bernardo Strozzi, c. 1630

The music of Dafne is now lost. The first opera for which music has survived was performed in 1600 at the wedding of Henry IV of France and Marie de Medici at the Pitti Palace in Florence. The opera, Euridice, with a libretto by Rinuccini, set to music by Peri and Giulio Caccini, recounted the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. The style of singing favored by Peri and Caccini was a heightened form of natural speech, dramatic recitative supported by instrumental string music. Recitative thus preceded the development of arias, though it soon became the custom to include separate songs and instrumental interludes during periods when voices were silent. Both Dafne and Euridice also included choruses commenting on the action at the end of each act in the manner of Greek tragedy. The theme of Orpheus, the demi-god of music, was understandably popular and attracted Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643) who wrote his first opera, La Favola d'Orfeo (The Fable of Orpheus), in 1607 for the court of Mantua.

Monteverdi insisted on a strong relationship between the words and music. When Orfeo was performed in Mantua, an orchestra of 38 instruments, numerous choruses and recitatives were used to make a lively drama. It was a far more ambitious version than those previously performed — more opulent, more varied in recitatives, more exotic in scenery — with stronger musical climaxes which allowed the full scope for the virtuosity of the singers. Opera had revealed its first stage of maturity in the hands of Monteverdi. L'Orfeo also has the distinction of being the earliest surviving opera that is still regularly performed today.

Opera in Rome

Within a few decades opera had spread throughout Italy. In Rome, it found an advocate in the prelate and librettist Giulio Rospigliosi (later Pope Clement IX). Rospigliosi's patrons were the Barberini.

Among the composers who worked in this period were Luigi Rossi, Michelangelo Rossi, Marco Marazzoli, Virgilio Mazzocchi, Stefano Landi.

Since the 1630s, the subject of the works changed greatly: those of the pastoral tradition and Arcadia, it is preferable that the poems of chivalry, usually Ludovico Ariosto and Torquato Tasso, or those taken from hagiography and Christian commedia dell'arte.

With the increased number of characters, the Roman operas became very dramatic, and had several twists. With these came along a new method of fixing the lines of the recitative, better suited to the various situations that arose from the rich storyline and that was closer to speech, full of parenthetical at the expense of the paratactic style that had so characterized the first Florentine works.

Venice: commercial opera

The principal characteristics of Venetian opera were (1) more emphasis on formal arias; (2) the beginning of bel canto ("beautiful singing") style, and more attention to vocal elegance than to dramatic expression; (3) less use of choral and orchestral music; (4) complex and improbable plots; (5) elaborate stage machinery; and (6) short fanfarelike instrumental introductions, the prototypes of the later overture.[5]

Opera took an important new direction when it reached the republic of Venice. It was here that the first public opera house, the Teatro di San Cassiano, was opened in 1637 by Benedetto Ferrari and Francesco Manelli. Its success moved opera away from aristocratic patronage and into the commercial world. In Venice, musical drama was no longer aimed at an elite of aristocrats and intellectuals and acquired the character of entertainment. Soon many other opera houses had sprung up in the city, performing works for a paying public during the Carnival season. The opera houses employed a very small orchestra to save money. A large part of their budget was spent on attracting the star singers of the day; this was the beginning of the reign of the castrato and the prima donna (leading lady).

The chief composer of early Venetian opera was Monteverdi, who had moved to the republic from Mantua in 1613, with later important composers including Pier Francesco Cavalli, Antonio Sartorio, and Giovanni Legrenzi.[5] Monteverdi wrote three works for the public theatres: Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (1640), Le nozze d'Enea con Lavinia (1641, now lost) and, most famously, L'incoronazione di Poppea (1642). The subjects of the new operas by Monteverdi and others were generally drawn from Roman history or legends about Troy, in order to celebrate the heroic ideals and noble genealogy of the Venetian state. However they did not lack for love interest or comedy. Most of the operas consisted of three acts, unlike the earlier operas which normally had five. The bulk of the versification was still recitative, however at moments of great dramatic tension there were often arioso passages known as arie cavate. Under Monteverdi's followers, the distinction between the recitative and the aria became more marked and conventionalised. This is evident in the style of the two most successful composers of the next generation: Francesco Cavalli and Antonio Cesti.

Spread of opera abroad

Opera Hall Castle Warsaw
Władysław's Opera Hall Building (right) at the Royal Castle in Warsaw

In Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth a tradition of operatic production began in Warsaw in 1628, with a performance of Galatea (composer uncertain), the first Italian opera produced outside Italy. Shortly after this performance, the court produced Francesca Caccini's opera La liberazione di Ruggiero dall'isola d’Alcina, which she had written for Prince Władysław Vasa three years earlier when he was in Italy. Another first, this is the earliest surviving opera written by a woman. Gli amori di Aci e Galatea by Santi Orlandi was also performed in 1628. When Władysław was king (as Władysław IV) he oversaw the production of at least ten operas during the late 1630s and 1640s, making Warsaw a center of the art. The composers of these operas are not known: they may have been Poles working under Marco Scacchi in the royal chapel, or they may have been among the Italians imported by Władysław. A dramma per musica (as serious Italian opera was known at the time) entitled Giuditta, based on the Biblical story of Judith, was performed in 1635. The composer was probably Virgilio Puccitelli.

Cavalli's operas were performed throughout Italy by touring companies with tremendous success. In fact, his Giasone was the most popular opera of the 17th century, though some critics were appalled at its mixture of tragedy and farce. Cavalli's fame spread throughout Europe. One of his specialties was giving his heroines "ground bass laments". These were mournful arias sung over a descending bass line and they had a great influence on Henry Purcell, whose "When I am laid in earth" from Dido and Aeneas is probably the most celebrated example of the form. Cavalli's reputation caused Cardinal Mazarin to invite him to France in 1660 to compose an opera for King Louis XIV's wedding to Maria Teresa of Spain. Italian opera had already been performed in France in the 1640s to a mixed reception and Cavalli's foreign expedition ended in disaster. French audiences did not respond well to the revival of Xerse (1660) and the specially composed Ercole amante (1662), preferring the ballets that had been inserted between the acts by a Florentine composer, Jean-Baptiste Lully, and Cavalli swore never to compose another opera.

Cesti was more fortunate when he was asked to write an opera for the Habsburg court in Vienna in 1668. Il pomo d'oro was so grandiose that the performance had to be spread over two days. It was a tremendous success and marked the beginning of Italian operatic dominance north of the Alps. In the late 17th century, German and English composers tried to establish their own native traditions but by the early 18th century they had given ground to imported Italian opera, which became the international style in the hands of composers such as Handel. Only France resisted (and her operatic tradition had been founded by the Italian Lully). This set the pattern until well into the 19th century: the Italian tradition was the international one and its leading exponents (e.g. Handel, Hasse, Gluck and Mozart) were often not natives of Italy. Composers who wanted to develop their own national forms of opera generally had to fight against Italian opera. Thus, in the early 19th century, both Carl Maria von Weber in Germany and Hector Berlioz in France felt they had to challenge the enormous influence of the Italian Rossini.

18th century

Opera seria

By the end of the 17th century some critics believed that a new, more elevated form of opera was necessary. Their ideas would give birth to a genre, opera seria (literally "serious opera"), which would become dominant in Italy and much of the rest of Europe until the late 18th century. The influence of this new attitude can be seen in the works of the composers Carlo Francesco Pollarolo and the enormously prolific Alessandro Scarlatti.

During the 18th century artistic and cultural life in Italy was heavily influenced by the aesthetic and poetic ideals of the members of the Accademia dell'Arcadia. The Arcadian poets introduced many changes to serious music drama in Italian, including:

  • the simplification of the plot
  • the removal of comic elements
  • the reduction of the number of arias
  • a predilection for plots drawn from ancient Classical or modern French tragedy, in which the values of loyalty, friendship and virtue were extolled and the absolute power of the sovereign was celebrated

By far the most successful librettist of the era was Pietro Metastasio and he maintained his prestige well into the 19th century. He belonged to the Arcadian Academy and was firmly in line with its theories. A libretto by Metastasio was often set by twenty or thirty different composers and audiences came to know the words of his dramas by heart.

Opera buffa

In the 17th century comic operas were produced only occasionally and no stable tradition was established. Only in the early years of the 18th century was the comic genre of opera buffa born in Naples and it began to spread throughout Italy after 1730.

Opera buffa was distinguished from opera seria by numerous characteristics:

  • the importance given to stage action and the consequent need for the music to follow the changes of the drama, emphasising the expressiveness of the words
  • the choice of singers who were also excellent actors able to perform the drama convincingly
  • a reduction in the use of scenery and stage machinery and in the number of orchestral players
  • the use of a small cast of characters (at least in the short form of comic opera known as the intermezzo) and simple plots, a good example being Pergolesi's La serva padrona
  • libretti inspired by commedia dell'arte, with realistic subjects, colloquial language and slang expressions
  • as far as singing was concerned: the complete rejection of vocal virtuosity; a tendency to an incorrect pronunciation of the words; the frequent presence of rhythmic and melodic tics; the use of onomatopoiea and interjections.

In the second half of the 18th century comic opera owed its success to the collaboration between the playwright Carlo Goldoni and the composer Baldassare Galuppi. Thanks to Galuppi, comic opera acquired much more dignity than it had during the days of the intermezzo. Operas were now divided into two or three acts, creating libretti for works of a substantially greater length, which differed significantly from those of the early 18th century in the complexity of their plots and the psychology of their characters. These now included some serious figures instead of exaggerated caricatures and the operas had plots which focused on the conflict between the social classes as well as including self-referential ideas. Goldoni and Galuppi's most famous work together is probably Il filosofo di campagna (1754).

The collaboration between Goldoni and another famous composer Niccolò Piccinni produced another new genre: opera semiseria. This had two buffo characters, two nobles and two "in between" characters.

The one-act farsa had a significant influence on the development of comic opera. This was a type of musical drama initially considered as a condensed version of a longer comic opera, but over time it became a genre in its own right. It was characterised by: vocal virtuosity; a more refined use of the orchestra; the great importance given to the production; the presence of misunderstandings and surprises in the course of the drama.

Gluck's reforms

Opera seria had its weaknesses and critics; a taste for embellishment on behalf of the superbly trained singers, and the use of spectacle as a replacement for dramatic purity and unity drew attacks. Francesco Algarotti's Essay on the Opera (1755) proved to be an inspiration for Christoph Willibald Gluck's reforms. He advocated that opera seria had to return to basics and that all the various elements—music (both instrumental and vocal), ballet, and staging—must be subservient to the overriding drama. Several composers of the period, including Niccolò Jommelli and Tommaso Traetta, attempted to put these ideals into practice. In 1765 Melchior Grimm published "Poème lyrique", an influential article for the Encyclopédie on lyric and opera librettos.[6][7][8][9][10]

The first to really succeed and to leave a permanent imprint upon the history of opera, however, was Gluck. Gluck tried to achieve a "beautiful simplicity". This is illustrated in the first of his "reform" operas, Orfeo ed Euridice, where vocal lines lacking in the virtuosity of (say) Handel's works are supported by simple harmonies and a notably richer-than-usual orchestral presence throughout.

Gluck's reforms have had resonance throughout operatic history. Weber, Mozart and Wagner, in particular, were influenced by his ideals. Mozart, in many ways Gluck's successor, combined a superb sense of drama, harmony, melody, and counterpoint to write a series of comedies, notably The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte (in collaboration with Lorenzo Da Ponte) which remain among the most-loved, popular and well-known operas today. But Mozart's contribution to opera seria was more mixed; by his time it was dying away, and in spite of such fine works as Idomeneo and La clemenza di Tito, he would not succeed in bringing the art form back to life again.

Romantic period

Romantic opera, which placed emphasis on the imagination and the emotions began to appear in the early 19th century, and because of its arias and music, gave more dimension to the extreme emotions which typified the theater of that era. In addition, it is said that fine music often excused glaring faults in character drawing and plot lines. Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868) initiated the Romantic period. His first success was an "opera buffa" (comic opera), La Cambiale di Matrimonio (1810). His reputation still survives today through his Barber of Seville (1816), and La Cenerentola (1817). But he also wrote serious opera, Tancredi (1813) and Semiramide (1823).

Rossini's successors in the Italian bel canto were Vincenzo Bellini (1801–35), Gaetano Donizetti (1797–1848) and Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901). It was Verdi who transformed the whole nature of operatic writing during the course of his long career. His first great successful opera, Nabucco (1842), caught the public fancy because of the driving vigour of its music and its great choruses. "Va, pensiero", one of the chorus renditions, was interpreted and gave advantageous meaning to the struggle for Italian independence and to unify Italy.

After Nabucco, Verdi based his operas on patriotic themes and many of the standard romantic sources: Friedrich Schiller (Giovanna d'Arco, 1845; I masnadieri, 1847; Luisa Miller, 1849); Lord Byron (I due Foscari, 1844; Il corsaro, 1848); and Victor Hugo (Ernani, 1844; Rigoletto, 1851). Verdi was experimenting with musical and dramatic forms, attempting to discover things which only opera could do.

In 1887, he created Otello which completely replaced Rossini's opera of the same name, and which is described by critics as the finest of Italian romantic operas with the traditional components: the solo arias, the duets and the choruses fully integrated into the melodic and dramatic flow.

Verdi's last opera, Falstaff (1893), broke free of conventional form altogether and finds music which follows quick flowing simple words and because of its respect for the pattern of ordinary speech, it created a threshold for a new operatic era in which speech patterns are paramount.

Opera had become a marriage of the arts, a musical drama, full of glorious song, costume, orchestral music and pageantry; sometimes, without the aid of a plausible story. From its conception during the baroque period to the maturity of the romantic period, it was the medium through which tales and myths were revisited, history was retold and imagination was stimulated. The strength of it fell into a more violent era for opera: verismo, with Cavalleria rusticana by Pietro Mascagni and Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo.

Contemporary period

Final scene from the opera Risorgimento!
The final scene of the opera Risorgimento!

Some of the greatest Italian operas of the 20th century were written by Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924). These include Manon Lescaut, La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, La fanciulla del West, La rondine and Turandot, the last two being left unfinished. In 1926 and in 2002 Franco Alfano and Luciano Berio respectively attempted a completion of Turandot, and in 1994 Lorenzo Ferrero completed the orchestration of the third version of La rondine. Berio himself wrote two operas, Un re in ascolto and Opera. Ferrero likewise has composed several operas including Salvatore Giuliano, La Conquista, and his 2011 Risorgimento!

Other 20th-century Italian opera composers are:

See also

References

Notes

  1. ^ This is not agreed by all authorities, see Grout and Williams, 1988, p. 41 (footnote) for references to other views
  2. ^ Grout and Williams, 1988, p. 33
  3. ^ Porter, William V. 1965, "Peri and Corsi's Dafne: Some New Discoveries and Observations", Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Summer, 1965), p. 170, on JSTOR.org
  4. ^ Grout and Williams, 1988, p. 30
  5. ^ a b Miller and Cockrell 1991, p. 93
  6. ^ Larousse Dictionnaire de la musique
  7. ^ Thomas, 1995, p. 148
  8. ^ Heyer (ed.) 2009, p. 248
  9. ^ Lippman 2009, p. 171
  10. ^ "Position Papers: Seminar 1. Music: universal, national, nationalistic" Faculty of Arts and Humanities, King's College London

Sources

  • Boyden, Matthew (1997), Opera, the Rough Guide. ISBN 1-85828-138-5
  • Grout, Donald Jay; Hermine Weigel Williams (1988), A Short History of Opera, Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231061926
  • Heyer, John Hajdu, (Ed.) (2009), Lully Studies, ISBN 9780521118651
  • Holden, Amanda (2001), The New Penguin Opera Guide. ISBN 0-14-051475-9
  • Lippman, Edward A. (2009), A History of Western Musical Aesthetics, University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0803279515 ISBN 9780803279513
  • Orrey, Leslie; Rodney Milnes, Opera: A Concise History. World of Art, Thames & Hudson
  • Miller, Hugh Milton; Dale Cockrell (1991), History of Western Music. ISBN 978-0-06-467107-1.
  • Parker, Roger (Ed.) (1994), The Oxford Illustrated History of Opera.
  • Sadie Stanley (Ed.) (1992), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. ISBN 0-333-73432-7; ISBN 1-56159-228-5
  • Thomas, Downing A. (1995), Music and the origins of language: theories from the French Enlightenment, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521028622
  • Warrack, John; Ewan West (1992), The Oxford Dictionary of Opera. ISBN 0-19-869164-5
Aria

In music, an aria ([ˈaːrja]; Italian: air; plural: arie [ˈaːrje], or arias in common usage, diminutive form arietta [aˈrjetta], plural ariette, or in English simply air) is a self-contained piece for one voice, with or without instrumental or orchestral accompaniment, normally part of a larger work.

The typical context for arias is opera, but vocal arias also feature in oratorios and cantatas, sharing features of the operatic arias of their periods. The term was originally used to refer to any expressive melody, usually, but not always, performed by a singer.

Arioso

In classical music, arioso [aˈrjoːzo] (also aria parlante [ˈaːrja parˈlante]) is a type of solo vocal piece, usually occurring in an opera or oratorio, falling somewhere between recitative and aria in style. Literally, arioso means airy. The term arose in the 16th century along with the aforementioned styles and monody. It is commonly confused with recitativo accompagnato.

Arioso is similar to recitative due to its unrestrained structure and inflexions, close to those of speech. It differs, however, in its rhythm. Arioso is similar to aria in its melodic form, both being closer to singing than recitative; however, they differ in form, arioso generally not resorting to the process of repetition.

Cantabile

In music, cantabile [kanˈtaːbile], an Italian word, means literally "singable" or "songlike". In instrumental music, it is a particular style of playing designed to imitate the human voice.

For 18th-century composers, cantabile is often synonymous with "cantando" (singing) and indicates a measured tempo and flexible, legato playing. For later composers, particularly in piano music, cantabile is the drawing out of one particular musical line against the accompaniment (compare counterpoint). Felix Mendelssohn's six books of Songs Without Words are short lyrical piano pieces with song-like melodies written between 1829 and 1845. A modern example is an instrumental by Harry James & His Orchestra, called "Trumpet Blues and Cantabile".

A cantabile movement, or simply a "cantabile", is the first half of a double aria, followed by a cabaletta. The cantabile movement would be slower and more free-form to contrast with the structured and generally faster cabaletta. Louis Spohr subtitled his violin concerto No. 8 "in moda d'una scena cantata," "in the manner of a sung [operatic] scene"; opera arias exerted a strong influence on the "singable" cantabile melodic line in Romantic writing for stringed instruments.

Coloratura

The word coloratura (Italian pronunciation: [koloraˈtuːra]) is originally from Italian, literally meaning "coloring", and derives from the Latin word colorare ("to color"). When used in English, the term specifically refers to elaborate melody, particularly in vocal music and especially in operatic singing of the 18th and 19th centuries, with runs, trills, wide leaps, or similar virtuoso-like material. Its instrumental equivalent is ornamentation. It is also now widely used to refer to passages of such music, operatic roles in which such music plays a prominent part, and singers of these roles.

Contralto

A contralto (Italian pronunciation: [konˈtralto]) is a type of classical female singing voice whose vocal range is the lowest female voice type.The contralto's vocal range is fairly rare; similar to the mezzo-soprano, and almost identical to that of a countertenor, typically between the F below middle C (F3 in scientific pitch notation) to the second F above middle C (F5), although, at the extremes, some voices can reach the D below middle C (D3) or the second B♭ above middle C (B♭5). The contralto voice type is generally divided into the coloratura, lyric, and dramatic contralto.

Convenienze

Convenienze (Italian literally conveniences) were the rules relating to the ranking of singers (primo, secondo, comprimario) in 19th-century Italian opera, and the number of scenes, arias etc. that they were entitled to expect.

The convenienze are referred to in the Donizetti opera Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali.

Diva

A diva (; Italian: [ˈdiːva]) is a celebrated female singer; a woman of outstanding talent in the world of opera, and by extension in theatre, cinema and popular music. The meaning of diva is closely related to that of prima donna. Diva can also refer to a woman, especially one in show business, with a reputation for being temperamental, demanding, or difficult to work with.

Her Majesty's Theatre

Her Majesty's Theatre is a West End theatre situated on Haymarket in the City of Westminster, London. The present building was designed by Charles J. Phipps and was constructed in 1897 for actor-manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree, who established the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art at the theatre. In the early decades of the 20th century, Tree produced spectacular productions of Shakespeare and other classical works, and the theatre hosted premieres by major playwrights such as George Bernard Shaw, J. M. Synge, Noël Coward and J. B. Priestley. Since the First World War, the wide stage has made the theatre suitable for large-scale musical productions, and the theatre has accordingly specialised in hosting musicals. The theatre has been home to record-setting musical theatre runs, notably the First World War sensation Chu Chin Chow and the current production, Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, which has played continuously at Her Majesty's since 1986.

The theatre was established by architect and playwright John Vanbrugh, in 1705, as the Queen's Theatre. Legitimate drama unaccompanied by music was prohibited by law in all but the two London patent theatres, and so this theatre quickly became an opera house. Between 1711 and 1739, more than 25 operas by George Frideric Handel premiered here. In the early 19th century, the theatre hosted the opera company that was to move to the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, in 1847, and presented the first London performances of Mozart's La clemenza di Tito, Così fan tutte and Don Giovanni. It also hosted the Ballet of her Majesty's Theatre in the mid-19th century, before returning to hosting the London premieres of such operas as Bizet's Carmen and Wagner's Ring Cycle.

The name of the theatre changes with the sex of the monarch. It first became the King's Theatre in 1714 on the accession of George I. It was renamed Her Majesty's Theatre in 1837. Most recently, the theatre was known as His Majesty's Theatre from 1901 to 1952, and it became Her Majesty's on the accession of Elizabeth II. The theatre's capacity is 1,216 seats, and the building was Grade II* listed by English Heritage in 1970. LW Theatres has owned the building since 2000. The land beneath it is on a long-term lease from the Crown Estate.

Intermezzo

In music, an intermezzo (, Italian pronunciation: [ˌinterˈmɛddzo], plural form: intermezzi), in the most general sense, is a composition which fits between other musical or dramatic entities, such as acts of a play or movements of a larger musical work. In music history, the term has had several different usages, which fit into two general categories: the opera intermezzo and the instrumental intermezzo.

Legato

In music performance and notation, legato ([leˈɡaːto]; Italian for "tied together"; French lié; German gebunden) indicates that musical notes are played or sung smoothly and connected. That is, the player makes a transition from note to note with no intervening silence. Legato technique is required for slurred performance, but unlike slurring (as that term is interpreted for some instruments), legato does not forbid rearticulation.

Standard notation indicates legato either with the word legato, or by a slur (a curved line) under notes that form one legato group. Legato, like staccato, is a kind of articulation.

There is an intermediate articulation called either mezzo staccato or non-legato (sometimes referred to as portato).

Libretto

A libretto (lit. "booklet") is the text used in, or intended for, an extended musical work such as an opera, operetta, masque, oratorio, cantata or musical. The term libretto is also sometimes used to refer to the text of major liturgical works, such as the Mass, requiem and sacred cantata, or the story line of a ballet.

Libretto (pronounced [liˈbretto]; plural libretti [liˈbretti]), from Italian, is the diminutive of the word libro ("book"). Sometimes other language equivalents are used for libretti in that language, livret for French works and Textbuch for German. A libretto is distinct from a synopsis or scenario of the plot, in that the libretto contains all the words and stage directions, while a synopsis summarizes the plot. Some ballet historians also use the word libretto to refer to the 15–40 page books which were on sale to 19th century ballet audiences in Paris and contained a very detailed description of the ballet's story, scene by scene.The relationship of the librettist (that is, the writer of a libretto) to the composer in the creation of a musical work has varied over the centuries, as have the sources and the writing techniques employed.

In the context of a modern English language musical theatre piece, the libretto is often referred to as the book of the work, though this usage typically excludes sung lyrics.

Maestro

Maestro (; from the Italian maestro [maˈestro; maˈɛstro], meaning "master" or "teacher") is an honorific title of respect (plural: maestri, feminine: maestra). The term is most commonly used in the context of Western classical music and opera, in line with the ubiquitous use of Italian musical terms.

Mezzo-soprano

A mezzo-soprano or mezzo (English: , ; Italian pronunciation: [ˈmɛddzo soˈpraːno] meaning "half soprano") is a type of classical female singing voice whose vocal range lies between the soprano and the contralto voice types. The mezzo-soprano's vocal range usually extends from the A below middle C to the A two octaves above (i.e. A3–A5 in scientific pitch notation, where middle C = C4; 220–880 Hz). In the lower and upper extremes, some mezzo-sopranos may extend down to the F below middle C (F3, 175 Hz) and as high as "high C" (C6, 1047 Hz).

The mezzo-soprano voice type is generally divided into the coloratura, lyric, and dramatic mezzo-soprano.

Opera

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 theater. Such a "work" (the literal translation of Italian word "opera") is typically a collaboration between a composer and a librettist and incorporates a number of the performing arts, such as acting, scenery, costume, and sometimes dance or ballet. 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 is a key part of the Western classical music tradition. Originally understood as an entirely sung piece, in contrast to a play with songs, opera has come to include numerous genres, including some that include spoken dialogue such as musical theater, Singspiel and Opéra comique. In traditional number opera, singers employ two styles of singing: recitative, a speech-inflected style, and self-contained arias. The 19th century saw the rise of the continuous music drama.

Opera originated in Italy at the end of the 16th century (with Jacopo Peri's mostly lost Dafne, produced in Florence in 1598) and soon spread through the rest of Europe: Heinrich Schütz in Germany, Jean-Baptiste Lully in France, and Henry Purcell in England all helped to establish their national traditions in the 17th century. In the 18th century, Italian opera continued to dominate most of Europe (except France), attracting foreign composers such as George Frideric Handel. 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. The most renowned figure of late 18th-century opera is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who began with opera seria but is most famous for his Italian comic operas, especially The Marriage of Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro), Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte, as well as Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio), and The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte), landmarks in the German tradition.

The first third of the 19th century saw the high point of the bel canto style, with Gioachino Rossini, Gaetano Donizetti and Vincenzo Bellini all creating works that are still performed. It also saw the advent of Grand Opera typified by the works of Auber and Meyerbeer. The mid-to-late 19th century was a golden age of opera, led and dominated by Giuseppe Verdi in Italy and Richard Wagner in Germany. The popularity of opera continued through the verismo era in Italy and contemporary French opera through to Giacomo Puccini and Richard Strauss in the early 20th century. During the 19th century, parallel operatic traditions emerged in central and eastern Europe, particularly in Russia and Bohemia. The 20th century saw many experiments with modern styles, such as atonality and serialism (Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg), Neoclassicism (Igor Stravinsky), and Minimalism (Philip Glass and John Adams). With the rise of recording technology, singers such as Enrico Caruso and Maria Callas became known to much wider audiences that went beyond the circle of opera fans. Since the invention of radio and television, operas were also performed on (and written for) these mediums. Beginning in 2006, a number of major opera houses began to present live high-definition video transmissions of their performances in cinemas all over the world. Since 2009, complete performances can be downloaded and are live streamed.

Opera buffa

Opera buffa (Italian: [ˈɔːpera ˈbufːa]; "comic opera", plural: opere buffe) is a genre of opera. It was first used as an informal description of Italian comic operas variously classified by their authors as commedia in musica, commedia per musica, dramma bernesco, dramma comico, divertimento giocoso.

Especially associated with developments in Naples in the first half of the 18th century, whence its popularity spread to Rome and northern Italy, buffa was at first characterized by everyday settings, local dialects, and simple vocal writing (the basso buffo is the associated voice type), the main requirement being clear diction and facility with patter.

The New Grove Dictionary of Opera considers La Cilla (music by Michelangelo Faggioli, text by Francesco Antonio Tullio, 1706) and Luigi and Federico Ricci's Crispino e la comare (1850) to be the first and last appearances of the genre, although the term is still occasionally applied to newer work (for example Ernst Krenek's Zeitoper Schwergewicht). High points in this history are the 80 or so libretti by Carlindo Grolo, Loran Glodici, Sogol Cardoni and various other approximate anagrams of Carlo Goldoni, the three Mozart/Da Ponte collaborations, and the comedies of Gioachino Rossini and Gaetano Donizetti.

Similar foreign genres such as opéra comique or Singspiel differed as well in having spoken dialogue in place of recitativo secco, although one of the most influential examples, Pergolesi's La serva padrona (which is an intermezzo, not opera buffa), sparked the querelle des bouffons in Paris as an adaptation without sung recitatives.

Opera seria

Opera seria (Italian pronunciation: [ˈɔːpera ˈsɛːrja]; plural: opere serie; usually called dramma per musica or melodramma serio) is an Italian musical term which refers to the noble and "serious" style of Italian opera that predominated in Europe from the 1710s to about 1770. The term itself was rarely used at the time and only attained common usage once opera seria was becoming unfashionable and beginning to be viewed as something of a historical genre. The popular rival to opera seria was opera buffa, the 'comic' opera that took its cue from the improvisatory commedia dell'arte.

Italian opera seria (invariably to Italian libretti) was produced not only in Italy but almost throughout Europe, and beyond (see Opera in Latin America, Opera in Cuba e. g.). Among the main centres in Europe were the court operas based in Warsaw (since 1628), Munich (founded in 1653), London (established in 1662), Vienna (firmly established 1709; first operatic representation: Il pomo d'oro, 1668), Dresden (since 1719) as well as other other German residences, Saint Petersburg (Italian opera reached Russia in 1731, first opera venues followed c. 1742), Madrid (see Spanish opera), and Lisbon. Opera seria was less popular in France, where the national genre of French opera (or tragédie en musique) was preferred.

Acclaimed composers of opera seria included Alessandro Scarlatti, George Frideric Handel, Nicola Porpora, Leonardo Vinci, Johann Adolph Hasse, and in the second half of the 18th century Christoph Willibald Gluck, Niccolò Jommelli, Josef Mysliveček, Tommaso Traetta, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. By far the most successful librettist of the era was Metastasio, others were Apostolo Zeno, Ranieri de' Calzabigi and Lorenzo Da Ponte.

Prima donna

In opera or commedia dell'arte, a prima donna ([ˈpriːma ˈdɔnna]; plural: prime donne; Italian for "first lady") is the leading female singer in the company, the person to whom the prime roles would be given. The prima donna was normally, but not necessarily, a soprano. The corresponding term for the male lead (almost always a tenor) is primo uomo.Prime donne often had grand off-stage personalities and were seen as demanding of their colleagues. From its original usage in opera, the term has spread in contemporary usage to refer to anyone behaving in a demanding or temperamental fashion or having an inflated view of oneself and a narcissistic attitude.

Ritornello

A ritornello [ritorˈnɛllo] (Italian; "little return") is a recurring passage in Baroque music for orchestra or chorus.

Soprano

A soprano [soˈpraːno] is a type of classical female singing voice and has the highest vocal range of all voice types. The soprano's vocal range (using scientific pitch notation) is from approximately middle C (C4) = 261 Hz to "high A" (A5) = 880 Hz in choral music, or to "soprano C" (C6, two octaves above middle C) = 1046 Hz or higher in operatic music. In four-part chorale style harmony, the soprano takes the highest part, which often encompasses the melody.

The soprano voice type is generally divided into the coloratura, soubrette, lyric, spinto, and dramatic soprano.

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