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The first opera - Baroque art form

One of the most celebrated art forms in music is the opera. Even though many people think opera is mostly about screaming as loud as possible, it is actually about setting musical expression to written words and present it in an artful way. This is like the most you can do to yourself in order to express your feelings, whatever they may be. In short, a fine combination of music and poetry, if you will. A really fine form of art. This is what opera is about.

So how come opera came about first during the Baroque era? In fact, the Baroque era itself is dated to 1600-1750, and 1600 was the year when the very first opera ever was written (by J. Peri). Actually, 1598 may be the very first year of the opera ("Daphne") but the score for it has been lost. Of course, these year landmarks are not the exact starting and ending points of an era that actually 'diffuses' into an out of cultural life. But opera can be said to have fired off the Baroque era because it was such a novel form of music. I mean, after all, it had to be set up in a theatre with a scenery, acting singers, and the powerfully expressive music was the driving force of the whole setup. Such settings were unheard of before the Baroque era, maybe to some degree with exception to the ancient Greek music in theatres. Opera was actually a sort of revival of this art form, in a new fashion of course, where not only music but also the singer's virtuosity was emphasized.

The opera form itself was preceded by another forms of art. In Italy, dramas that were set in theatres (all spoken, that is) gradually were combined with intermezzi - small musical interludes that were played in between the different acts of a drama. This was copied straight from the ancient Greek way of performing a theatre play.

So the first opera ever was performed in Florence (Italy) during the festivities surrounding a grand marriage of Henry IV of France and Marie de' Medici. The opera was called "Euridice" and written jointly by Jacopo Peri and Giulio Caccini. It was using small choruses, songs with plain simple melodies, and the so-called recitative: half-spoken song that is used for either a narrated interlude or other appropriate events within an opera. This recitative (or stile rappresentativo) was something that was born out of the philosophy that a song should be sung with clear words, so people could understand what is going on in the act, especially if some spots within an opera contain fast virtuosic arias that are virtually impossible to comprehend (speaking of the words, of course). So, within an opera we have these cycles of narrated recitative and virtuosic and very expressive arias.


The idea behind operatic arias was quite simple. It stemmed from the ancient Greek practice of monody, a solo song. Composers who wanted to revive the ancient culture accomodated this practice under their wings, the first group of composers being the Florentine Camerata. The idea now was to find the perfect musical setting to express the written words.
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