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Portal:Opera

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Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work (called an opera) which combines a text (called a libretto) and a musical score. Opera is part of the Western classical music tradition. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery and costumes and sometimes includes dance. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble.

Opera started in Italy at the end of the 16th century (with Jacopo Peri's lost Dafne, produced in Florence around 1597) and soon spread through the rest of Europe: Schütz in Germany, Lully in France, and Purcell in England all helped to establish their national traditions in the 17th century. However, in the 18th century, Italian opera continued to dominate most of Europe, except France, attracting foreign composers such as Handel. Opera seria was the most prestigious form of Italian opera, until Gluck reacted against its artificiality with his "reform" operas in the 1760s. Today the most renowned figure of late 18th century opera is Mozart, who began with opera seria but is most famous for his Italian comic operas, especially The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte, as well as The Magic Flute, a landmark in the German tradition.

The first third of the 19th century saw the highpoint of the bel canto style, with Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini all creating works that are still performed today. It also saw the advent of Grand Opera typified by the works of Meyerbeer. The mid to late 19th century is considered by some a golden age of opera, led by Wagner in Germany and Verdi in Italy. This 'golden age' developed through the verismo era in Italy and contemporary French opera through to Puccini and 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 (Schoenberg and Berg), Neo-Classicism (Stravinsky), and Minimalism (Philip Glass and John Adams). With the rise of recording technology, singers such as Enrico Caruso became known to audiences beyond the circle of opera fans. Operas were also performed on (and written for) radio and television.

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The Queen's Theatre, Dorset Garden where The Fairy-Queen was first performed.
The Fairy-Queen (Z.629) is a masque or semi-opera by Henry Purcell; a Restoration spectacular It was first performed on 2 May 1692 at the Queen's Theatre, Dorset Garden in London by the United Company. The libretto is an anonymous adaptation of William Shakespeare's wedding comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream. Presumably the author or at least co-author of the libretto is Thomas Betterton, the manager of Dorset Garden Theatre with whom Purcell worked regularly. This assumption is based on an analysis of Betterton's stage directions. A collaboration between several playwrights is also feasible. Choreography for the various dances was provided by Josias Priest, who also worked on Dioclesian and King Arthur, and who was associated with Dido and Aeneas. Purcell did not set any of Shakespeare's text to music; instead he composed music for short masques in every act but the first. The play itself was also slightly modernized in keeping with seventeenth-century dramatic conventions, but in the main the spoken text is as Shakespeare wrote it. The masques are related to the play metaphorically, rather than literally. Many critics have stated erroneously that they bear no relationship to the play, but recent scholarship has shown that the opera, which ends with a masque featuring Hymen, the God of Marriage, was actually composed for the fifteenth wedding anniversary of William and Mary.

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Noël Coward
Credit: Allan Warren

Portrait of Noël Coward by the English society-photographer and former actor, Allan Warren. Coward's 1929 operetta Bitter Sweet was later made into a film starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. The score was so heavily cut that Coward vowed he would never again allow one of plays to be filmed in Hollywood.

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Marian Anderson in a portrait by Carl Van Vechten

Selected biography

W. H. Auden
Wystan Hugh Auden (21 February 1907 – 29 September 1973), who published as W. H. Auden, was an Anglo-American poet, born in England, later an American citizen, and is regarded by many critics as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. His work is noted for its stylistic and technical achievement, its engagement with moral and political issues, and its variety in tone, form and content. The central themes of his poetry are love, politics and citizenship, religion and morals, and the relationship between unique human beings and the anonymous, impersonal world of nature. Auden took a particular interest in writing opera librettos, a form ideally suited to direct expression of strong feelings. He wrote the libretto for Britten's operetta Paul Bunyan and with Chester Kallman co-wrote the librettos for Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, Nicolas Nabokov's Love's Labour's Lost, and two operas by Hans Werner HenzeElegy for Young Lovers and The Bassarids.

Selected quote

Luisa Tetrazzini - Project Gutenberg eText 20069.jpg
I love my coloratura music, and I think my audience likes it too; it goes to the heart—it is all melody, and that is what people like.
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Francesca Caccini

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Main topics

Opera history: Origins of opera • Italian opera • Opera in German • French opera • Opera in English • Polish opera • Russian opera • Hungarian opera • Armenian opera • Opera in Latin America

Opera topics

Opera genres: Azione teatrale · Ballad opera · Comédie en vaudeville · Comédie mêlée d'ariettes · Dramma giocoso · Dramma per musica · Farsa · Festa teatrale · Género chico · Grand Opera · Music Drama · Opéra-ballet · Opera buffa · Opéra bouffe · Opéra bouffon · Opéra comique · Opéra féerie · Opera semiseria · Opera seria · Operetta · Pastorale héroïque · Romantische Oper · Savoy opera · Semi-opera · Singspiel · Spieloper · Tragédie en musique · Verismo · Zarzuela · Zeitoper

Opera terms: Aria · Aria di sorbetto · Arioso · Bel canto · Breeches role · Burletta · Cabaletta · Cadenza · Cantabile · Castrato · Cavatina · Chest voice · Claque · Coloratura · Comprimario · Convenienze · Coup de glotte · Da capo aria · Diva · Entr'acte · Fach · Falsetto · Fioritura · Gesamtkunstwerk · Head voice · Intermezzo · Kammersänger · Leitmotif · Legato · Libretto · Literaturoper · Mad scene · Maestro · Melodrama · Melodramma · Monodrama · Messa di voce · Opera house · Passaggio · Portamento · Prima donna · Prompter · Recitative · Regietheater · Répétiteur · Sitzprobe · Spinto · Sprechgesang · Squillo · Stagione · Surtitles · Tessitura · Timbre · Vibrato

Opera voices: Baritenor · Baritone · Bass · Bass-baritone · Coloratura soprano · Contralto · Countertenor · Dramatic soprano · Haute-contre · Lyric soprano · Mezzo-soprano · Soprano · Soubrette · Spinto soprano · Tenor · Tenore contraltino · Tenore di grazia

Opera lists: Opera topics • List of operas by composer • Important operas • Major opera composers • Opera librettists • Opera houses • Opera companies • Opera festivals • Opera directors • Operetta composers • Orphean operas • Zarzuela composers • Opera genres • Operas set in the Crusades • The Record of Singing • Bayreuth canon

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