Baroque Opera – the Fascinating History of Opera

The history of opera is as beautiful as is fascinating, with the first ever pieces written by the Baroque era composers like Cavalieri and Monteverdi in the 1600. Impressive, right? Well, there’s even more good news: Baroque opera is making an incredible comeback in major opera houses across the globe, including New York City Opera House, Nashville, Royal Opera House, and so forth. Of more importance, however, is that the new renditions look to bring Baroque opera to the masses in a big way.

What is Baroque Opera?

“Baroque” is a term that gained increased use in the 19th century to refer to the period in Western European opera history from 1600 to 1700 and thereabout. The word itself is derived from the Portuguese barroco which loosely means “oddly-shaped pearl.” That in and of itself isn’t surprising at all; the masterpieces of early Baroque composers like Handel or Bach were often seen as a little exaggerated. Of course, the genre has since shed its derogatory undertone.

As it was the tradition at the time, baroque operas employed music and dramatic text to express their stories, which often were based on Classical Roman and Greek mythology.

Important Baroque Opera Composers

Between 1600 and 1750, baroque opera saw an influx of sizzling talents looking to try their hands in the genre. These include Corelli, Frescobaldi, Monteverdi, Alessandro, Domenici, Vivaldi, and Scarlatti from Italy; Lully, Couperin, Rameau, and Charpentier from France; Schein, Schutz, Handle, Praetorius, Telemann, and Bach from Germany; and Purcell from England.

Highlights of Baroque Opera Era

Greek Tragedy: 16th-century Greek intellectuals thought their music was simplistic and sought for inspiration from an era when intellect and drama took center stage. And that’s how baroque opera came to be in Greece.

Emotive Words with Musical Accompaniments: early operas used emotive words often accompanied by a harpsichord or a lute.

Dafne and Apollo: Jacopo Peri’s 1598 work “Dafne” started off the baroque era opera. Then came “Apollo”; it was quite popular at the time.

The Allure of “Happy Ending:” baroque opera made a “happy ending” the mainstay feature with the use of songs, choruses, a simple plot, and a performance by a small group of instrumentalists.

The 1670s – The Upswing of Castrato: by 1670, opera had gained immense popularity across Italy, and so did the diva. The audience fancied longer songs, preferably performances by male castrato singers.

Thanks to the likes of Alessandro, Handel, & Vivaldi, baroque opera had become so popular that it had spread throughout Europe by 1714. The comeback of Baroque opera is certainly a welcome move for lovers of 1600-1700 Western Europe art.


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