Baroque Opera
Home | History | Recordings | Resources | Site map

The composers

Click on the portrait to see a different composer.

Composer

Claudio Monteverdi

Monteverdi’s music bridges the eras of the Renaissance and the Baroque. He composed the first opera that remains regularly performed: L’Orfeo (1607). The next year he composed the opera L’Arianna, which—except for its famous lament—has unfortunately been lost.

When the first public opera houses opened in Venice in 1637, the younger generation of composers and poets conspired to involve the elderly Monteverdi in creating operas for them. He composed three: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria (1640), Le nozze d'Enea con Lavinia (1641; now lost), and L'incoronazione di Poppea (1643). The two surviving operas from this period are towering masterpieces; Le nozze d'Enea con Lavinia remains to be discovered.

Henry Purcell

Primarily a court composer, Purcell also provided music for the stage. His best-known work is the opera Dido & Aeneas (1689). Composed for a performance at a girls’ school, it is an anomaly among Baroque operas: in English, less than an hour long, and a true tragedy that ends with the death of Queen Dido. It is an enduring work whose most famous contemporary staging by the choreographer Mark Morris is a triumph of both modern dance and early music.

Purcell also wrote five “semi-operas”, which alternated spoken dialogue with his incomparable music: Dioclesian (1690), King Arthur (1691), The Fairy Queen (1692), based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Indian Queen (1695), and The Tempest (1695), based on Shakespeare’s play.

Antonio Vivaldi

Known as “The Red Priest” in Venice because of his red hair, Vivaldi taught music at a girls’ orphanage, lived and travelled with one of his students and her sister, and claimed to have written 90 operas.

Whatever the truth of that assertion, it is clear that he was extraordinarily productive in all forms of music, and his surviving operas are gradually being rediscovered. Among the best of them is his first, Ottone in Villa (1713).

George Frederic Handel

Handel came to London to compose Italian operas, and between 1711 and 1740 wrote upwards of 40 of them, most of which are stunning masterpieces of the form. He also became an impresario, directing the Royal Academy of Music and later his own company. Among his masterpieces are Giulio Cesare in Egitto (1724), Rodelinda (1725), Ariodante (1734), and Alcina (1735).

Return to the History page.

Or, go to the pages on Arias or Conventions.