A Short History | Late Baroque | Opera

By the beginning of the eighteenth century, opera was established in some form in most major European centres. The basic types of serious and comic opera in both Italian and French traditions shared similarities, although the content and style of an operatic entertainment could vary according to whether it was intended to flatter a private patron, resound with a public audience, or to celebrate a state event such as a wedding or coronation.

The most important operatic centres in Italy during the early eighteenth century were Naples in the south and Venice in the north. Opera became popular in Naples, not least because it was a form of entertainment that the Spanish viceroy enjoyed, and most significant festive events and state celebrations were commemorated with opera performances. Several theatres had been established during the previous century, although their early eighteenth-century incarnations were rarely the same building. For instance, the Teatro San Bartolomeo was burnt down after shivering patrons had failed to extinguish a fire they had lit inside their box. The grandest theatres such as the Teatro San Carlo (named after the Spanish king) specialized in serious opera. Neapolitan serious operas often included comic subplots, frequently concerning the servants’ observations about the behaviour of their noble employers, and smaller opera houses presented entirely comic operas performed in a vernacular Neapolitan dialect.

Despite the decline of its once immense political significance, Venice boasted a vibrant operatic scene that was predominantly active from the winter carnival until the public theatres closed at the start of Lent each year. Native composers such as Gasparini, Vivaldi and Pollarolo dominated Venetian opera until the Neapolitan school, including Leo, Vinci and Porpora, became popular from the late 1720s. Theatres such as San Giovanni Grisostomo seated only a few hundred people, and those who sat in the stalls could not always see much, despite the theatres being small compared to modern opera houses.

Key Events

1702 War of the Spanish Succession begins
1706 Thomas Newcomen invents the first practical working steam engine
1709 Battle of Poltava: Peter the Great consolidates Russia’s power by defeating Sweden
1710 Bishop George Berkeley publishes A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge
1713 Treaty of Utrecht ends the War of the Spanish Succession
1718 Gabriel Fahrenheit invents the mercury thermometer
1719 Daniel Defoe publishes Robinson Crusoe
1720 The South Sea Bubble, the first international stock-market crisis, causes financial panic in Paris and London
1726 Jonathan Swift publishes Gulliver’s Travels
1728 John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera opens in London
1733 John Kay invents the flying shuttle loom
1739 John Wesley founds the Methodist movement
1740 War of the Austrian Succession begins
1742 Handel’s Messiah is first performed in Dublin
1745 Second Jacobite Rebellion led by Prince Charles Edward Stuart
1748 Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle ends the War of the Spanish Succession
1749 Henry Fielding publishes Tom Jones

Introduction | Late Baroque | Opera
Styles & Forms | Late Baroque | Opera
Houses & Companies | Baroque Opera in Naples | Early...

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