Complete Italian: Italian opera

by Maurice Elston and Lydia Vellaccio

The creator of opera as we know it today was Monteverdi, with his musical drama Orfeo (1607). From then on, composers from all over Europe such as Purcell, Haydn, Handel, Gluck and Mozart attempted the art with varying degrees of success. Handel (1685–1759) in particular helped to make Italian opera latest craze of Europe, but by the nineteenth century, it was the Italians who were undisputed masters of the art: Italy, which had hitherto been foremost in music of all kinds, abandoned symphonic music in favour of the human voice.

Rossini (1792‒1868) was the first to dominate the scene, and his most famous opera Il Barbiere di Siviglia is still popular today. Donizetti (1797–1848), too, is still remembered for the bel canto in Lucia de Lamermoor. But it was Bellini (1801–35) who stretched this particular art to the limits with Norma. Verdi (1813–1901) dominated the whole century with his prolific output and was important for developing the art of opera from a series of individual arias to sustained dramatic musical content in works such as Falstaff. This tradition culminated with Puccini (1858-1900), whose operas, from La Bohème to Turandot, show a cautious development in the same direction, without however neglecting the role of the prima donna.

In spite of glittering gala nights at La Scala, opera is still popular among Italians of all classes and many towns continue to have their own opera houses, including La Fenice in Venice and San Carlo in Naples. More recently, the Roman amphitheatre in Verona and the Baths of Caracalla in Rome have been used for stunning open-air productions during the summer months.

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