What is opera?


The History of Opera

In Western tradition, an opera is a staged work set entirely to music with orchestral overture and continuous music and spoken song (recitative), arias and chorus.

Developed in early 17th century Italy, opera has been an artform for over 400 years – a unique combination of theatrical and musical performance.

During the early Baroque period composers like Monteverdi, Handel and Vivaldi were at the forefront of the genre with famous works include L’Orfeo and Guilio Cesare. As the centuries progressed, so the trends in opera changed into the classical period when Mozart and his librettist da Ponte where at their zenith when many famous operas in today’s popular repertoire were composed including La nozze di Figaro and Cosi fan tutte.

At the turn of the 19th century opera entered the Romantic period when dominant composers included Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Puccini and Wagner and popular works included Eugene Onegin, Carmen, La Boheme, La Traviata, Madam Butterfly and The Ring Cycle.

In the Modernist period of the 20th century composers moved away from the traditional opera arias and famous composers of this era include Britten, Birtwistle, Adams and Turnage whose work include Billy Budd, The Minotaur, The Death of Klinghoffer and Anna Nicole.

Orpheus in the Underworld - photo Nathan Cox

Orpheus in the Underworld – photograph by Nathan Cox

Voice types in opera

You will hear many different voice types at the opera. The highest female voice type is the soprano who usually takes the leading female role. The lower female voice type is mezzo- soprano and is often used for so-called “trouser” roles, where the female singer performs a male role. The lowest female voice is called a contralto.

In male voice type categories, the highest modern voice type is a countertenor, with lower voice of a tenor often used for the male romantic lead. The baritone tends to be used for rogues and husbands, whilst the lowest male voice, the bass, is used for those in power.

Buxton International Festival 2019 is the perfect opportunity to dip your toes into opera for the first time and discover the operas being staged: a famous Russian romance, a Baroque discovery, a popular unpretentious romp through the underworld, and an unbridled scandal with resonances for today’s world.