The birth of the Italian opera coincides with the birth of the opera worldwide. Claudio Monteverdi
(born in Cremona, Lombardy, in 1567) was the composer who more than others marked the passage from the Renaissance to the Baroque era in music. His L’Orfeo is the earliest opera still regularly performed today. It tells the story of Orpheus, who descended to Hades, the land of the dead, in an effort to bring Eurydice, his dead wife, back
to life. It is very interesting that although it can be considered an early Baroque opera, L’Orfeo still gives musicians room to improvise, as was in the Renaissance tradition. The premiere of the Orfeo took place in Mantua, in a theater belonging to the historical Gonzaga family.
(born in Palermo, Sicily, in 1660) was among the founders of the opera seria, the style that induced the audience to meditate over dramatic or historical events, in contrast to the comedy-inspired opera buffa. Scarlatti wrote many pieces of music and operas. His masterpiece is probably the Eupatore (Mithridates Eupator), a five-act opera seria.
The opera tells the story of Mithridates’ return from his Egyptian exile to Pontus (in Greece). Mithridates claims the throne of Pontus after his father has been killed by his mother and her lover, the now usurper king, Farnace. It has to be noted that at that time, female roles were interpreted by castrato
singers, male singers who had been emasculated in their youth to retain the capacity to sing high pitches with great strength. The opera premiered at the Theater San Giovanni Grisostomo (now Teatro Malibran) in Venice in 1707.
, different from Scarlatti, focused on the opera buffa comedies.
Cimarosa was born in Aversa, not far from Naples, in 1749. His masterpiece, Il Matrimonio Segreto
(The Secret Marriage), was considered by Giuseppe Verdi as the archetype of the opera buffa. This opera focuses on the secret wedding between Paolino and Carolina. Before they can reveal their secret marriage, Carolina and Paolino have to overcome the passion of an English count, who is crazy about the girl, and of Carolina’s aunt, who loves the boy. Fortunately, at Cimarosa’s time, the castrato
phenomenon was subsiding (also, thanks to laws that forbid it); Carolina’s role was played by soprano Irene Tomeoni at the premiere at theater La Scala in Milan.
brought opera to a whole new level. He was born in Pesaro, then part of the Papal State, in 1792. His works were so successful and his songs became so popular that one can say that with Rossini, opera entered the house of the common people. This popularity is mostly due to Il Barbiere di Siviglia
(The Barber of Seville), an opera buffa that premiered in 1816 at the Teatro Argentina in Rome, with little success, only to become incredibly popular later. It sings the difficult love between Rosina, a beautiful young lady of Seville, and Count Almaviva, who is aided by Figaro, the city’s factotum
, to win her heart in spite of all the comic obstacles. Rossini was a resident composer at the court of the Bourbons in Naples, from where he left to marry Spanish singer Isabella Cobran.
took Rossini’s place at the Bourbon Court, although he came from Northern Italy (he was born in Bergamo in 1797). Donizetti’s masterpiece was a tragic opera, the Lucia di Lammermoor
. It premiered at the San Carlo Theater in Naples in 1835, even though it took some years to establish itself as a classic. The opera takes place in Scotland and tells the sad story of Lucie Ashton and Edgard Ravenswood, who love each other despite the fact that Lucie’s family, by hand of Lucie’s brother Henry, usurped Edgard’s family’s fortune.
died shortly before the premiere of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. He was born only 34 years ago, in Catania, Sicily. His complex yet easy to memorize arias
were unprecedented. His masterpiece was the lyric tragedy Norma
premiered at the opera house La Scala in Milan on the occasion of the theater’s season inauguration on December 26, 1832. Norma is a druid priestess who is in love with Pollione, proconsul of the Roman invaders, from whom she has had two children. Pollione no longer loves Norma though; he loves Adalgisa, a younger priestess. Adalgisa loves Pollione back, but she would never betray Norma. Tragedy ensues as Norma does not want to give up her love for Pollione, while Pollione will not give up his love for Adalgisa.
Bellini died very young because of colon and liver inflammation. It was Rossini who took care of his funeral and burial.