A historical understanding of the origin of opera is important if the music itself is to be enjoyed. Opera developed in England, Germany, France, and most importantly Italy in the beginning of the 16th century. In fact, the leading role in this development was played by Italy. A story in opera finds expression through musical instruments accompanied by voice.
Opera found its way into England and France through the use of musical instruments that became very popular with royal courts throughout Europe in the early 17th century. Elaborate costumes were orchestrated during these events and dances were accompanied by visual effects. Most of the stories told at this time had their origin in classical mythology. They were used as a manifestation of the grandeur with which kings ruled.
The years before 1600 saw Italy become very famous for its elaborate musical conceptions that were identified through the use of opera performances. It was not long before the country started exporting opera music to the rest of Europe. Italyís greatest influence throughout Europe in the period between 1500 and 1700 was through music. This is how new genres such as oratorio, concerto and opera found their way into major European countries.
Dafne is the first real opera which was performed by Perin in 1598 in Florence, Italy. Dafne was a pioneer series of productions that were similar and which established a long tradition which came to be known as The Italian Opera. The score sadly no longer exists. One of the greatest known composers of this time was Monteverdi. One of his early works was known as Orfeo and was produced in 1607. This work was composed for the Mantua Court. Thereafter, he wrote for the first opera house that was open for the public. The opera house was in Venice and the year was 1607.
Some opera performances known today as Dido and Aeneas which were produced in 1689 are still performed today. They were composed in English by Henry Purcell. The operas were meant to be half-spoken and half-sung. Soon, professional actors began taking lead roles in the operas and the rarely sung. This form of opera maintained popularity throughout the late 1600ís and well into the 1700ís.
Italians dominated opera in the 18th century. Two flavors had already developed; the Opera Seria or serious opera and Opera Buffo or comedic operas. Opera Seria mainly dwelt on issues that were historic in nature while Opera Buffo revolved around contemporary issues. During this time, Singspien Opera consisted of spoken dialogue mixed with songs, much in the same way like a ballad and was associated with the German language. Opera Comique on the other hand became associated with French. These two strands both have their roots Italian Opera Buffo variety.
Opera in the 19th century was also dominated by Italians. Rossini is a well known opera performer who created over 40 operas in his career spanning for 20 years. Others who rose to prominence include Bellini and Donizetti.
As the 19th century came to a close other famous names such as Verdi came into the limelight. German operas also came to be known as Wagna Operas. These operas were extremely nationalistic and very traditional in nature. An example of these operas is Der Friegende Hollander which in English means ëThe Flying Dutchmaní.