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Music and dance

Opera

Bizet's opera CarmenBizet's opera Carmen An opera is a work in which singers, musicians and sometimes dancers perform a drama. An opera combines a text, known as a libretto ("little book"), and a musical score. The performers are often in costume and perform in front of scenery on a theatre stage, sometimes with added special effects. An orchestra or smaller group of musicians accompanies the singers. The word opera means "work" in Italian, as operas combine a number of different arts. Opera stories or "plots" range from comedy to tragedy, and sometimes tell of mythical events.

 

A scene from Monterverdi's L'OrfeoA scene from Monterverdi's L'OrfeoClick to play video

The first operas

The first opera was written in 1597 by the Italian Jacopo Peri (1561–1633). The score of Daphne is lost, but it was an attempt to revive the style of classical Greek drama. The first recognizably modern opera is L’Orfeo, written by Italian Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643) in 1607. The opera tells the story of the Greek hero Orpheus and his descent into the Underworld to bring his bride Eurydice back to life.

L'Orfeo set the pattern for opera: the drama was played out using songs (arias) combined with recitative (in which the singers adopt the rhythms of speech).

The lead role in an opera seria was usually sung by a male singer called a castrato. He had been castrated (had his testes removed) before puberty, and so retained the high vocal range of a young boy, but with an adult singer's power.

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