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In 1880 a meeting was held between a group of wealthy businessmen in New York. Their uniting cause was the limited number of box seats available at the Academy of Music, the city’s primary venue for opera. The solution they posited was to build an entirely new opera house. A design was commissioned from J. Cleaveland Cady that included boxes ...

Source: Definitive Opera Encyclopedia, founding editor Stanley Sadie
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What distinguishes Peri’s Euridice from other musical dramas staged at the time, and allows it to claim the status of the first opera, is the composer’s use of a new style of singing, intended to imitate speech in song. It was partly the outcome of attempts to recreate the direct and expressive declamation of ancient Greek and Roman ...

Source: Classical Music Encyclopedia, founding editor Stanley Sadie
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Opera was essentially an Italian genre: it had been born in Florence, come to its first maturity in Venice and developed next in Naples and Rome. However, Italian art of all sorts was admired across Europe, and opera soon took root in France, Austria, Germany, England and Spain, even in distant Sweden and Russia. ...

Source: Classical Music Encyclopedia, founding editor Stanley Sadie
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When, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, French critics came into contact with Italian opera, many felt that the musical freedom of the Italians offered something that French opera, so closely tied to theatrical declamatory traditions, made impossible. The Abbé Raguenet, enamoured of Italian singing and the supporting instrumental skills, mocked French opera ...

Source: Classical Music Encyclopedia, founding editor Stanley Sadie
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The early nineteenth century saw the rise of the operatic personality, or prima donna. Composers built working relationships with individual singers and tailored their roles to the vocal characteristics of their favoured performers. Meyerbeer, for example, carefully considered his performers’ vocal nuances and technical capabilities, and if the singer he had in mind could not perform, ...

Source: Classical Music Encyclopedia, founding editor Stanley Sadie
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Through a long history of tradition, the language of opera is Italian. The early history of the art-form is rooted in the language – Mozart’s greatest operas are set to Italian librettos – and the wealth of Italian opera composers in the early nineteenth century (Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, Cherubini, Spontini, Mercadante) is testimony to the ...

Source: Classical Music Encyclopedia, founding editor Stanley Sadie
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Opera, with its unique blend of poetry, drama and music, has come a long way from its humble beginnings in ancient Greek theatre. The grandiose, all-encompassing music dramas of Verdi and Wagner may seem a world away from the era of Aristotle and Plato, but this noble civilization, which held music and theatre in high ...

Source: Definitive Opera Encyclopedia, founding editor Stanley Sadie
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The musical culture of ancient Greece has had a profound influence on the history of Western music. However, its legacy is particularly evident in the emergence of opera in the early seventeenth century. Even though we have little idea about what ancient Greek music actually sounded like – composers and musicians did not write their music down – there are ...

Source: Definitive Opera Encyclopedia, founding editor Stanley Sadie
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The performers in the Greek tragedy were of two distinct types: the choros and the solo actors. The choros was a group of 12 or 15 adult men drawn from the general citizenry of Athens. Its role was largely passive in the drama, usually commenting upon the action or sympathizing with the solo characters. Although the choros (and particularly its ...

Source: Definitive Opera Encyclopedia, founding editor Stanley Sadie
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In the Middle Ages, two distinct forms of music drama existed: the liturgical dramas that took place in churches as a part of the service – and were therefore in Latin; and the ‘mystery’ or ‘miracle’ plays that were performed outside churches in the everyday language of the people. Liturgical Dramas Liturgical dramas were performed only by members of the ...

Source: Definitive Opera Encyclopedia, founding editor Stanley Sadie
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Several other non-Western cultures have developed genres of musical performance similar to that of opera – they combine music, song, story-telling and theatrical presentation. The most famous of these is the Nō theatre of Japan. Nō theatre was essentially established in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries by the two great playwrights Kan’ami (1333–84) and his son Zeami (1363–1443). These ...

Source: Definitive Opera Encyclopedia, founding editor Stanley Sadie
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The Renaissance, with its renewed interest in the music of the ancient world, is where the true roots of opera lie. The word ‘Renaissance’ means ‘rebirth’ and refers to the revival of the artistic and intellectual ideals of classical civilization following the intervening Middle Ages. The Renaissance began in Italy in the late fourteenth century and later spread to ...

Source: Definitive Opera Encyclopedia, founding editor Stanley Sadie
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The six intermedi composed to celebrate the marriage of Ferdinando de’ Medici of Florence and Christine of Lorraine in 1589 were the most spectacular and expensive ever seen. So lavish was the presentation that it completely dominated the play it accompanied – La pellegrina (‘The Pilgrim’) by Girolamo Bargagli. All the texts and music survive, together with the designs for ...

Source: Definitive Opera Encyclopedia, founding editor Stanley Sadie
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As part of the Renaissance (literally ‘rebirth’), which began in Italy in around 1450, the Baroque era was a revolution within a revolution. It saw a break from the Medieval view of humanity as innately sinful. Instead, Renaissance thinking cast individuals as a dynamic force in their own right and gave free rein to human imagination, ingenuity and ...

Source: Definitive Opera Encyclopedia, founding editor Stanley Sadie
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Opera began as an elite art. The first operas were created and performed for small, select audiences at wealthy courts in such cultural centres as Florence, Mantua, Parma and Rome. However, in 1637 the first public theatre in Venice, the Teatro San Cassiano opened, and the ‘invitation only’ nature of opera changed.  The Venetian ...

Source: Definitive Opera Encyclopedia, founding editor Stanley Sadie
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