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Portal:Opera

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The Opera Portal

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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Royal Opera House, London
The Royal Opera is a company based in central London, resident at the Royal Opera House (pictured) in Covent Garden. Along with the English National Opera, it is one of the two principal opera companies in London. Founded in 1946 as the Covent Garden Opera Company, it brought a long annual season and consistent management to a house that had previously hosted short seasons under a series of impresarios. Since its inception, it has shared the Royal Opera House with the dance company now known as the Royal Ballet. When the company was formed, its policy was to perform all works in English, but since the late 1950s most operas have been given in the original language. From the outset, performers have comprised a mixture of British and Commonwealth singers and international guest stars, but fostering the careers of singers from within the company was a consistent policy of the early years. Among the many guest performers have been Maria Callas, Plácido Domingo, Kirsten Flagstad, Hans Hotter, Birgit Nilsson, Luciano Pavarotti and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. Among those who have risen to international prominence from the ranks of the company are Geraint Evans, Joan Sutherland, Kiri Te Kanawa and Jon Vickers. The company's growth under the management of David Webster from modest beginnings to parity with the world's greatest opera houses was recognised by the grant of the title "The Royal Opera" in 1968.

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Le comte Ory - Dubois & chez Martinet - Final scene.jpg
Credit: Dubois
Restoration by Adam Cuerden

The final scene of Rossini's opera Le comte Ory at its premiere in 1828. The opera contains some of Rossini's most colorful orchestral writing and recounts a farcical tale of Count Ory and his men who attempt to seduce the women of Formoutiers while their husbands are away in the Crusades.

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Jenny Lind

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Francois Lays
François Lay, better known under the stage name Lays (14 February 1758 – 30 March 1831), was a French baritone and tenor opera singer. Originally destined for a career in the church, he was recruited by the Paris Opéra in 1779 and soon became a leading member of the company, in spite of quarrels with the management. Lays enthusiastically welcomed the French Revolution and became involved in politics with the encouragement of his friend Bertrand Barère. Barère's downfall led to Lays being imprisoned briefly, but he soon won back the public and secured the patronage of Napoleon, at whose coronation and second wedding he sang. His association with the Emperor caused him trouble when the Bourbon monarchy was restored and Lays's final years were darkened by disputes over his pension, mounting debts, the death of his only son and his wife's illness. After a career spanning more than four decades, he died in poverty.

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Giuseppe Verdi
I deny that either singers or conductors can "create" or work creatively – this, as I have always said, is a conception that leads to the abyss.

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Did you know...

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 vaudevilles · 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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