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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Célestine Marié who created the role of Carmen
Carmen is an opera in four acts by the French composer Georges Bizet. The libretto was written by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, based on a novella of the same title by Prosper Mérimée. The opera was first performed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris, on 3 March 1875, and was not at first particularly successful; its initial run extended to 36 performances. Before this run was concluded, Bizet died suddenly, and thus knew nothing of the opera's later celebrity. Written in the genre of opéra comique, it tells the story of the downfall of Don José, a naive soldier who is seduced by the wiles of the fiery gypsy Carmen. José abandons his childhood sweetheart and deserts from his military duties, yet loses Carmen's love to the glamorous toreador Escamillo after which José kills her in a jealous rage. The depictions of proletarian life, immorality and lawlessness, and the tragic outcome in which the main character dies on stage, broke new ground in French opera and were highly controversial. After the premiere most reviews were critical, and the French public was generally indifferent. Carmen initially gained its reputation through a series of productions outside France, and was not revived in Paris until 1883; thereafter it rapidly acquired celebrity at home and abroad, and continues to be one of the most frequently performed operas; the "toreador's song" from Act 2 is among the best known of all operatic arias. Later commentators have asserted that Carmen forms the bridge between the tradition of opéra comique and the realism or verismo that characterised late 19th-century Italian opera.

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Enrico Caruso, with a phonograph
Credit: Bain News Service

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso was an opera singer of international renown, and one of the key pioneers of recorded music. His "Vesti la giubba" (from Ruggiero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci) was, in its various versions, the first recording to sell a million copies.

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Simone Young

Selected biography

Patrice Chéreau
Patrice Chéreau (2 November 1944 – 7 October 2013) was a French opera and theatre director, filmmaker, actor and producer. In France he is best known for his work for the theatre, internationally for his films La Reine Margot and Intimacy, and for his staging of the Jahrhundertring, the centenary Ring Cycle at the Bayreuth Festival in 1976. Winner of almost twenty movie awards, including the Cannes Jury Prize and the Golden Berlin Bear, Chéreau served as president of the jury at the 2003 Cannes festival. His other opera productions included the first performance of the three-act version of Alban Berg's Lulu, completed by Friedrich Cerha, at the Paris Opera in 1979; Berg's Wozzeck at the Staatsoper Berlin in 1994; Wagner's Tristan und Isolde at La Scala in 2007; Janáček's From the House of the Dead, shown at several festivals and the Metropolitan Opera; and, as his last staging, Elektra by Richard Strauss, first performed at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in July 2013. He was awarded the Europe Theatre Prize in 2008.

Selected quote

Statue of Ralph Vaughan Williams in Dorking, Surrey (UK)
The audience is requested not to refrain from talking during the overture. Otherwise they will know all the tunes before the opera begins.

Selected audio


From Giacomo Puccini's Tosca, sung by Emmy Destinn (1914).

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Francisco Asenjo Barbieri

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