Baroque Opera
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The history of Baroque opera

Opera was created in Italy around 1600 as a courtly entertainment. The first operas featured mythological stories such as Orpheus and Eurydice—but because these expensive spectacles were generally performed for dynastic marriages and other high celebrations, the stories were often changed to have happy endings. Tragedies did not become staples of the operatic repertory until the 1800s.

In 1637 the first opera house that was open to the public at large opened in Venice. Soon opera became hugely popular, and composers and librettists found that they needed to incorporate comic characters as a counterbalance to the lofty sentiments of the noble or immortal ones. Eventually, comic business began to take over the plots, and the need for a happy ending was taken to absurd lengths (the story of Jason and Medea was staged as a comedy by Francesco Cavalli in his opera Giasone).

Court Theatre, Litomysl, Bohemia
The Court Theater, Litomysl, Bohemia
Around 1700 opera was “reformed” to separate comedy from tragedy. For the next 75 years, with few exceptions, operas were divided into two types: seria (serious opera) and buffa (comic opera). Not until the time of Mozart would the genres start to be mixed again, and the era of Baroque opera end.

From this page you can link to information about:

  • Composers: the key figures who created these enduring works
  • Arias: The raw emotions expressed in the words to these famous arias may surprise you.
  • Conventions: Men playing women, women playing men, heroes with high voices, and tragedies with happy endings—learn about the conventions of Baroque opera.