Skip to Main Content

Music: Opera Research

Online Opera Resources

Further Reading and Research

  • The Opera Companion, by George Martin—MT95 .M25 1984
  • The empty voice: acting opera, by Leon Major—MT956 .M35 2011
  • The opera singer's career guide : understanding the European Fach system, by Pearl Yeadon McGinnis—MT820 .M354 2010
  • Divas and scholars : performing Italian opera, by Philip Gossett—ML1700 .G7397 2006
  • Unsettling opera : staging Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, and Zemlinsky, by David J. Levin—ML3858 .L48 2007
  • Opera coaching : professional techniques and considerations, by Alan Montgomery—MT956 .M66 2006
  • The drama of opera : exotic and irrational entertainment, by Myer Friedman—ML1700 .F72 2003
  • Verdi and Puccini heroines : dramatic characterization in great soprano roles, by Geoffrey Edwards and Ryan Edwards—ML410.V4 E29 2001
  • The Cambridge Companion to Mozart, edited by Simon P. Keefe—ML.410.M9 C225 2003
  • Opera and modern culture : Wagner and Strauss, by Lawrence Kramer—ML1700 .K715 2004
  • Analyzing opera : Verdi and Wagner, edited by Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parker—MT95 .A59 1989
  • Essays on Handel and Italian opera, edited by Reinhard Strohm—ML410.H13 S75 1985
  • Understanding the women of Mozart's operas, by Kristi Brown Montesano—ML410.M9 B8195 2007
  • Evenings at the opera : an exploration of the basic repertoire, by Jeffrey Langford—MT95 .L354 2011
  • A Song of Love and Death : The Meaning of Opera, by Peter Conrad—ML1700 .C668 1987
  • Opera seria and the evolution of classical style, 1755-1772, by Eric Weimer—ML1704 .W44 1984
  • The culture of opera buffa in Mozart's Vienna : a poetics of entertainment, by Mary Hunter—ML1723.8.V6 H86 1999
  • Reading opera between the lines : orchestral interludes and cultural meaning from Wagner to Berg, by Christopher Morris—ML3845 .M87 2002
  • Opera : desire, disease, death, by Linda Hutcheon and Michael Hutcheon—ML1700 .H87 1996
  • Opera as drama, by Joseph Kerman—ML3858 .K4 1988

Opera Through the Ages

Renaissance

The end of the Renaissance saw the birth of what would be known today as “opera.” The term “opera” actually was not used at this time. Instead, these dramatic, musical works were known as dramma per musica, favola in musica, tragedie lyrique etc.[1] A notable example of a Renaissance favola in musica is Claudio Monteverdi's L'Orfeo.

Baroque

The Baroque period developed on the practice of opera composition in the late Renaissance. Da capo arias—arias in A B A form—were introduced, as well as the distinction between humorous and serious pieces.[2]  Opera buffa featured funny characters and situations, normally with a happy ending,[3] while opera seria ended tragically.[4] The heroic characters were normally given to castrati, male singers who could sing in very high registers due to castration before puberty.[5] This practice is no longer in existence today. Instead, male singers, known as countertenors are trained to sing solely in their falsetto. George Friederich Handel's Giulio Cesare is an important example of an opera from the Baroque period.

Classical

The world of opera readjusted as the Baroque era ended. Composers wrote arias in forms other than the normal rounded binary, and operas began to exhibit elements of both buffa and seria, thus creating the opera semiseria and dramma giacoso. Dramma giacoso incorporated buffa and seria characters and entangled them in humorous or serious situations.[6] Mozart's opera, Don Giovanni, is a dramma giacoso.

Early Romantic

After the Classical period, another musical revolution ushered in the Romantic era. Bel canto, or "beautiful singing," rose to popularity at the beginning of the 19th century. [7] Composers, such as Donizetti, Rossini, and Bellini embraced this new technique. Il Barbiere di Siviglia, by Gioachino Rossini is a popular example of the bel canto style.

Mid Romantic

The Mid Romantic period saw the rise of different compositional techniques. Composers, namely Verdi, used music to serve the drama, rather than vice versa. The prelude to La Traviata, for instance, is not a set, formulaic overture, but rather a commentary of the heroine of the opera, Violetta's decline throughout the opera.[8] Exoticism also became popular at this time.[9] Bizet's opera comiqueCarmen exhibits elements of exoticism.[10]  For example, Carmen's famous "Habenera" features a chromatic motive over an oscillating figure in the celli. 

La Traviata, Giuseppe Verdi

Carmen, Georges Bizet

Late Romantic

Ithe late 19th century to the early 20th century, composers began to blur the lines between set scenes, recitative, and arias. In verismo operas, such as Puccini's La Boheme, composers sought to bring opera closer to reality.[11] Wagner employed Gesamtkunstwerk, literally translated “total work of art,” in which the music is  continually played throughout the duration of each act; no scenes and no arias break the flow of the drama.[12] 

La Boheme,Giacomo Puccini (Verismo)

Tristan und Isolde, Richard Wagner (Gesamtkunstwerk)

20th Century

Once again, the normal practices of opera composition were abolished. Composers began experimenting with 12 tone composition,[13] and Modernism reigned.[14] Alban Berg's tragic Wozzeck exemplified Modernism. In the mid-century, however, some composers began to emulate older compositional practices, known as Neo-classicism.[15] Igor Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress is an example of Neo-classicism.

Wozzeck, Alban Berg

The Rake's Progress, Igor Stravinsky

Contemporary

In the second half of the 20th century, minimalism became popular with the rise of composers such as Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Minimalism represented a “breaking back to basics” mentality in which composers chose to use simple rhythms and tonality in sequence with each other.[16] John Adams' Nixon in China is an operatic manifestation of Minimalism, paired with recent historical events.[17]