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Opera. Famous operas and composers

Opera is a musical play in which the music is as important as the words. People often distinguish between grand opera, in which the story is serious and every word is sung, and light opera (sometimes called operetta, comic opera, or opera buffa), in which the story is lighthearted and some of the dialogue is spoken.

Opera has a number of conventions or customs which distinguish it from ordinary theater Most operas begin with an overture, a piece for orchestra. In addition to the principal characters, there is usually a chorus. The action of the play is often held up for a song.

Famous operas and composers: Joan Sutherland, the soprano, in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor Famous composers and operas: A scene from a production of The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart

Famous operas and composers: Joan Sutherland, the soprano, in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor

Famous composers and operas: A scene from a production of The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart

The principal solo songs in operas are often called arias. In most operas of the 1600's and 1700's; an aria is preceded by a recitative, a passage in which the singer declaims words to music.

Music and drama have been closely linked for thousands of years, but opera as we know it today began in Italy during the 1590's. The first great opera was Orfeo (1607) by Claudio Monteverdi. Other great opera composers of the 1600s included the Italian Alessandro Scarlatti and the Frenchmen Jean Baptiste Lully and Jean Philippe Rameau.

Famous operas and composers: Miroslav Cangalovic in Boris Godunov, the opera by Mussorgsky

Famous operas and composers: Miroslav Cangalovic in Boris Godunov, the opera by Mussorgsky

Italian opera became very formal and undramatic in the 1700's, but a German, Christoph Willibald Gluck, linked story and music more closely. His example was followed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with works such as The Magic Flute.

Most of the operas performed today were written in the 1800's. In Italy, one of the greatest opera composers was Giuseppe Verdi (e.g. Aida; Rigoletto). Other leading Italians included Vincenzo Bellini (Norma) and Gioacchino Rossini (e.g. The Barber of Seville). In Germany, Richard Wagner wrote a series of great musical dramas in which music, story and characters were created together (e.g. Tannhauser; The Mastersingers).

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