Evolution Of Opera: Greek Drama To Baroque Opera

1034 words - 4 pages

Donald Grout defines opera in his text, A Short History of Opera, as “a drama in music: a dramatic action, exhibited on stage with scenery by actors in costume, the words conveyed entirely or for the most part by singing, and the whole sustained and amplified by orchestral music” (4). A literal translation of the word opera is simply work, and although the term opera was not coined until 1634, one of the first known operas was performed in 1597 (Grout 1). Grout explains that there are two types of opera. The first type is when the main emphasis is on the music (Grout 6). Examples of this type of opera can be seen in the works of Lully and Wagner (Grout 7). The second type of opera is characterized by the music and other factors being of equal importance (Grout 6). Mozart, Bellini, and Rossini composed operas that belong to this second type of opera (Grout 7). The origins of seventeenth century opera can be traced back to Greek drama, and medieval theatre. Throughout the seventeenth century different forms of opera could be found in various countries including Italy, Germany, France, and England. To have a thorough understanding of opera it is important to locate its roots.
Greek drama is said to be “the model on which the creators of modern opera at the end of the sixteenth century based their work on” (Grout 11). There are significant differences between Greek drama and opera. For instance, the casts of Greek dramas consisted of only men (Grout 13). Also Greek dramas were not entirely sung, many parts were spoken with the majority of the singing done by the chorus (Grout 12). The function of the chorus was to convey the audience’s response (Grout 12). By the second century BCE, Greek drama went through significant changes including the disappearance of the chorus (Grout 14).
In the Middle Ages theatre stemmed from religious services (Grout 15). Throughout the Middle Ages there were two main types of theatre. The first was liturgical drama which originated in religious services, mainly in Resurrection dramas found in tropes (Grout 15-16). Initially the whole of the liturgical drama was sung (Grout 17). The second type was mysteries, like liturgical dramas the theme was sacred but mysteries covered a greater scope (Grout 18). In some instances mysteries would go as far as to mock the church and priests (Grout 19). Mysteries remained popular into the fifteenth and sixteenth century (Grout 18).
The beginning of the seventeenth century marked the start of opera in Italy. The earliest opera manuscripts to survive are the two settings of Euridici by Peri and Caccini (Grout 43). Although Euridici is the first known opera, Peri and Caccini were both not considered the founder of opera, that honor was instead given to Monteverdi (Grout 51). The reason for this may be because Euridici is said to contain many imperfections including: “weakness of characterization, the limited range of emotions expressed, the lack of clear, consistent musical...

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