List of major opera composers

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This list provides a guide to the most important opera composers, as determined by their presence on a majority of compiled lists of significant opera composers. (See the "Lists Consulted" section for full details.) The composers run from Jacopo Peri, who wrote the first ever opera in late 16th century Italy, to John Adams, one of the leading figures in the contemporary operatic world. The brief accompanying notes offer an explanation as to why each composer has been considered major. Also included is a section about major women opera composers, compiled from the same lists. For an introduction to operatic history, see opera. The organisation of the list is by birthdate.

Major male opera composers[edit]

1550–1699[edit]

Jacopo Peri as Arion in La pellegrina
A scene from Purcell's operatic masterpiece, Dido and Aeneas. The witches' messenger, in the form of Mercury himself, attempts to convince Aeneas to leave Carthage. Note the use of Italian-style recitative, a rarity in English opera at that time.[10]

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1700–99[edit]

Gluck, detail of a portrait by Joseph Duplessis, dated 1775 (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)

1800–49[edit]

Giuseppe Verdi, by Giovanni Boldini, 1886 (National Gallery of Modern Art, Rome)
Charles Gounod's Faust: Méphistophélès (Marcel Journet) gives Faust (Enrico Caruso) a glimpse of Marguerite, and he signs the contract with the Devil, then leaves with him to experience the world. Recorded in 1910.

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1850–99[edit]

Giacomo Puccini

1900–present[edit]

Female opera composers[edit]

John Singer Sargent drawing of Ethel Smyth, 1901

A number of reasons, including the high cost of production and high status of opera,[72] have been suggested to explain the relatively few women who have been composers of opera, and no woman composer met the criteria for inclusion above. However, some experts in our sample disagreed,[73] and named one or all of the women below as comparable to those already listed:

  • Francesca Caccini (1587 – after 1641) was one of the best-known and most influential female European composers before the 19th century. Her stage work, La liberazione di Ruggiero, has been widely considered the first opera by a woman composer.
  • Dame Ethel Smyth (1858–1944) is perhaps most famous for her work for the suffragettes; however, she also wrote several operas of note, including The Wreckers.
  • Kaija Saariaho (born 1952) Born and educated in Finland, Saariaho gained experience researching and composing at IRCAM. Her most well-known opera is L'amour de loin (2000).
  • Judith Weir (born 1954) began composing full-length operas in 1987 with A Night at the Chinese Opera.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 768
  2. ^ Orrey p. 18
  3. ^ Professor Tim Carter in Viking Opera Guide (p. 678) writes: "Monteverdi's recitative owes much to Peri ... However "Orfeo" has much broader roots. There are many references to the tradition of the Florentine intermedi: the spectacular stage effects, the mythological subject matter, the allegorical figures, the number and scoring of the instruments and the extended choruses". See also Carter, writing about the intermedi in The Oxford Illustrated History of Opera (p. 4): "rich display and erudite symbolism made the intermedi an ideal projection of princely magnificence".
  4. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 189
  5. ^ Orrey p. 35
  6. ^ Orrey p. 55
  7. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 942
  8. ^ a b Orrey p. 40
  9. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 343
  10. ^ a b Orrey p. 59
  11. ^ Oxford Companion to Music, p. 783
  12. ^ Orrey p. 85
  13. ^ Viking Opera Guide pp. 216–218
  14. ^ Orrey p. 101
  15. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 210
  16. ^ Orrey p. 139
  17. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 1002
  18. ^ Viking Opera Guide pp. 37–38
  19. ^ Orrey p. 140
  20. ^ Oxford Illustrated History of Opera pp. 146–150
  21. ^ a b Britannica p. 631 C.2
  22. ^ Orrey p. 134
  23. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 412
  24. ^ Orrey pp. 129–133
  25. ^ Orrey p. 153
  26. ^ a b Orrey p. 154
  27. ^ Orrey p. 180
  28. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 1098.
  29. ^ Orrey pp. 168–169
  30. ^ Orrey pp. 137–147
  31. ^ Britannica p. 633 C.1
  32. ^ Orrey p. 177
  33. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 134
  34. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 929. Viking says Saint-Saëns wrote 13 operas, including his part in an unfinished work by Guiraud and two opéra comiques.
  35. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 253.
  36. ^ Orrey pp. 156–157
  37. ^ a b Britannica p. 637 C.2
  38. ^ Orrey p. 182
  39. ^ David Brown (author of the four-volume Tchaikovsky: A Biographical and Critical Study, Gollancz, 1978–91) in Viking Opera Guide, pp. 1083–1095
  40. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 197
  41. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 302
  42. ^ Orrey p. 156
  43. ^ Graham Dixon in Viking Opera Guide, p. 622
  44. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 864
  45. ^ Britannica p. 638 C.2
  46. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 563
  47. ^ a b Orrey p. 225
  48. ^ Viking Opera Guide pp. 202–204
  49. ^ Orrey p. 216
  50. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 617
  51. ^ Orrey p. 213
  52. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 772
  53. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 952
  54. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 848
  55. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 958
  56. ^ Orrey p. 220
  57. ^ "ALBAN BERG". Composers online. W. W. Norton & Company. Retrieved 2006-09-10. 
  58. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 55
  59. ^ Britannica p. 637 C.1
  60. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 467
  61. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 348
  62. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 1207
  63. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 1102
  64. ^ Orrey p. 232
  65. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 51
  66. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 648
  67. ^ Orrey p. 234
  68. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 461
  69. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 243
  70. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 360
  71. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 17
  72. ^ See, e.g. Katherine Kolb's review of Women Writing Opera: Creativity and Controversy in the Age of the French Revolution.
  73. ^ See #Lists consulted

Sources[edit]

Lists consulted[edit]

This list was compiled by consulting ten lists of great opera composers, created by recognized authorities in the field of opera, and selecting all of the composers who appeared on at least six of these (i.e. all composers on a majority of the lists). Judith Weir appears on four of the ten lists consulted, more than any other female composer in the sample. The lists used were:

  1. "Graeme Kay's Guide to Opera, produced for the BBC". 
  2. "The "Opera" Encyclopaedia Britannica article". 
  3. "Opera," in Columbia Encyclopedia online". 
  4. Composers mentioned in Nicholas Kenyon's introduction to the Viking Opera Guide (1993 edition) ISBN 0-670-81292-7.
  5. "The Standard Repertoire of Grand Opera 1607–1969", a list included in Norman Davies's Europe: a History (OUP, 1996; paperback edition Pimlico, 1997) ISBN 0-7126-6633-8.
  6. Composers mentioned in the chronology by Mary Ann Smart in The Oxford Illustrated History of Opera (OUP, 1994) ISBN 0-19-816282-0.
  7. "A Bird's Eye View of the World's Chief Opera Composers" in The Oxford Companion to Music by Percy Scholes (10th edition revised by John Owen Ward, 1970). ISBN 0-19-311306-6.
  8. Composers with recordings included in The Penguin Guide to Opera on Compact Discs ed. Greenfield, March and Layton (1993 edition) ISBN 0-14-046957-5.
  9. The New Kobbe's Opera Book, ed. Lord Harewood (1997 edition) ISBN 0-399-14332-7.
  10. "Table of Contents of The Rough Guide to Opera".  by Matthew Boyden. (2002 edition) ISBN 1-85828-749-9.

Note:

  • The composers included in all 10 lists cited are: Berg, Britten, Donizetti, Gluck, Handel, Monteverdi, Mozart, Puccini, Rameau, Rossini, Richard Strauss, Verdi, and Wagner.
  • The composers included in nine of the lists are: Bellini, Berlioz, Bizet, Glinka, Gounod, Lully, Massenet, Mussorgsky, and Tchaikovsky.
  • The composers included in eight of the lists are: Adams, Debussy, Glass, Henze, Janáček, Leoncavallo, Menotti, Meyerbeer, Pergolesi, Purcell, Rimsky-Korsakov, Schoenberg, Smetana, Thomas (Ambroise), Tippett, and Weber.
  • The composers included in seven of the lists are: Auber, Beethoven, Borodin, Cavalli, Cherubini, Cimarosa, Delibes, Hindemith, Mascagni, Offenbach, Prokofiev, Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Shostakovich, and Gustave Charpentier.
  • The composers included in six of the lists are: Barber, Bartók, Chabrier, Peter Maxwell Davies, Dvořák, Gay and Pepusch, Gershwin, Halévy, Peri, Pfitzner, Scarlatti, Schreker, Spontini, Stravinsky, Walton.
  • Judith Weir was included in four lists; Dame Ethel Smyth in two.