from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Opera star Maria Callas

As Opera (from Ital. Opera in musica , "musical work") refers to a since 1639 musical genre of theater . Furthermore, the opera house (the place where it is performed or the institution producing it) or the company performing it is also referred to as an opera .

An opera consists of the setting of a dramatic poem to music performed by a singing ensemble , an accompanying orchestra, and sometimes a choir and ballet ensemble . In addition to singing, the actors perform drama and dance on a theater stage that is designed with the help of painting , architecture , props , lighting and stage technology . The roles of the actors are visualized by mask and costumes . As artistic director, the press director for the musical, the director for the management of people and the stage designer for the equipment . In the background she supports the dramaturgy .


The opera is summarized with dance, musical and operetta under the term music theater . The boundaries to related works of art are fluid and redefine themselves in every epoch, mostly with regard to certain national preferences. In this way, the opera as a genre remains alive and receives new ideas from the most varied areas of theater.

Opera and drama

Drama in the strict sense that people only speak on stage are rare in theater history . Mixed forms of music, recitation and dance were the rule, even if at some times writers and theater people endeavored to rescue or reform the drama. Since the 18th century, mixed forms between drama and opera have emerged from the various varieties of opéra-comique , such as ballad opera , singspiel or farce with singing. Mozart's Singspiele are counted as opera, those of Nestroy count as plays. On the border move z. B. also the works of Brecht / Weill , whose threepenny opera is closer to the drama, while the rise and fall of the city of Mahagonny is an opera. Music that is completely subordinate to drama is called drama music .

A widespread form of theater related to drama since the beginning of the 19th century was melodrama , which today is only present in popular film. It had a great influence on opera at the time with its adventure materials. In places it contained background music as background music for the action on the stage (less of the spoken text). The term melodrama , which is still known today, refers to this . Such background music can be found, for example, in Mozart's Idomeneo , Ludwig van Beethoven's Fidelio , in Weber's Der Freischütz (in the Wolfsschluchtszene) and in Humperdinck's Königskinder .

Opera and ballet

In the French tradition, dance has been integrated into opera since the baroque era. Classical ballet struggled to break free of this connection in the 19th century, but neoclassical works of the 20th century, for example by Igor Stravinsky or Bohuslav Martinů , confirm the relationship between opera and ballet. Italian opera was not free from dance either, even if dance did not dominate to the same extent. Today, the ballets and Divertissements of repertoire works mostly removed from the scores, so the impression of a separation of lines is created.

Opera and operetta / musical

The genre of the operetta and related forms such as the zarzuela , as a further development of the Singspiel, is distinguished from the opera, which was increasingly composed from the middle of the 19th century onwards, through the spoken dialogues, but also through its predominant entertainment requirements and the primary concern for popularity or commercial success . This demarcation did not emerge until the end of the 19th century: when the "comic opera" had changed from the "low" to the "high" genre, the operetta emerged as a new "low" genre. The same applies to the musical , the further development of popular musical theater in the United States. Operettas and musicals are art forms no less than opera.




Even in ancient Greek theater , scenic action was combined with music. Modern opera repeatedly referred to this model and, because little has been passed on from performance practice, was able to interpret it in a wide variety of ways. A choir that sang and danced played a major role, dividing the drama into episodes or having the task of commenting on the plot. The Romans cultivated comedy rather than tragedy . Mimus and later pantomime had a high proportion of music. Due to the destruction of the Roman theaters in the 6th century and the loss of books in late antiquity , many sources about it have been lost.

However, since the beginning of the 20th century, numerous ancient buildings, especially amphitheaters and theaters, have been used for opera performances. The best known are the Théâtre Antique in Orange (with interruptions since 1869), the Arena di Verona (since 1913), the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens (since the 1930s), the Baths of Caracalla in Rome (since 1937) and the Roman quarry St. Margarethen (since 1996).

middle Ages

In the High Middle Ages , based on the Easter Mass service, a new tradition of sung action emerged. The spiritual play first took place in the church, then in the 13th century as a passion play or procession play outside the church. Popular topics were the biblical Easter and Christmas events, also with comedic interludes. The melodies are often passed down, the use of musical instruments is likely, but rarely verifiable. In the courtly sphere there were secular pieces such as Adam de la Halle's melodious Jeu de Robin et de Marion (1280).


Production design for Orpheus and Amphion, Düsseldorf 1585

The time of the carnival , which later became the traditional opera season, has provided the opportunity for musical-theatrical actions since the 15th century, which emanated from the then largest European cities in Italy: intermedia , dance games, mask and triumphal parades are part of the urban representation in the Italian Renaissance . The madrigal was the most important genre of vocal music and was often associated with dances.

The royal court in France gained importance compared to Italy in the 16th century. The Ballet comique de la reine 1581 was a dance and sung act and is considered an important forerunner of the opera.

An early attempt in Germany to perform a dramatic action with singing protagonists in a stage design is the performance of Orpheus and Amphion on a simultaneous stage on the occasion of the Jülich wedding of Johann Wilhelm von Jülich-Kleve-Berg with Margravine Jakobe von Baden in Düsseldorf in 1585 possible composer of the music that has not been handed down is called Andrea Gabrieli . The music was so beautiful "that it was not there / at that time / and heard such Musicum concentum & Symphoniam / on it was possible to believe." The plot was, of course, primarily an allegory in the sense of a prince's mirror .


Florentine Camerata

The opera in today's sense originated in Florence at the end of the 16th century . The Florentine Camerata , an academic discussion group , in which poets (e.g. Ottavio Rinuccini ), musicians, philosophers, aristocrats and a patron of the arts - initially took on this role, Count Bardi , later Count Corsi  - played an important role in the history of its creation . These humanists sought to revive the ancient drama , which they believe included vocal soloists, choir and orchestra. After the pastoral dramas of the 16th century, the libretto was designed and set to music using the musical means of the time. Vincenzo Galilei belonged to this group. He discovered hymns by Mesomedes , which are lost today, and wrote a treatise against Dutch polyphony . This was clear evidence of the desired musical style, the then new solo voice with instrumental accompaniment.

Understanding the text of vocal music was the most important thing for the Florentine Camerata. A clear, simple vocal line was declared the ideal, which the frugal basso -Begleitung with few and gentle instruments like lute or harpsichord had to subordinate. Well-elaborated melodic ideas were undesirable so as not to obscure the content of the words by the singing. There was even talk of a “nobile sprezzatura del canto” ( Giulio Caccini : Le nuove musiche , 1601), a “noble contempt for song”. This type of singing was called recitar cantando , reciting singing. The simplicity and limitation of the recitar cantando contrasts with the predominant polyphony with its complex layers of notes and text. With monody , as this new style was called in reference to antiquity, the word should come into its full use again. A theory of the affects developed , which could be transported through the sung text. Choirs in madrigal form or as a motet joined the monody of the individual vocal parts . The orchestra played ritornelles and dances in between.

La Dafne by Jacopo Peri (premiered in 1598) with a text by Ottavio Rinuccini , of which nothing has survived apart from a few fragments, is considered the first work in the opera genre . Other important works from the early days are Peris Euridice (1600) as the oldest surviving opera, as well as Euridice (1602) and Il Rapimento di Cefalo by Giulio Caccini . The subjects of these early operas were taken from shepherd poetry and above all from Greek mythology . Miracles, magic and surprises, represented by elaborate stage machinery , became popular components.


Claudio Monteverdi

Claudio Monteverdi's first opera L'Orfeo (1607) attracted particular attention . It was premiered in Mantua on February 24, 1607 on the occasion of the birthday of Francesco IV Gonzaga . Compared to its predecessors, for the first time a richer set of instruments can be heard here (although it is mostly only hinted at in the score ), expanded harmony , tonal- psychological and pictorial interpretation of words and figures as well as an instrumentation that characterizes the characters . Trumpets are used, for example, for the underworld and death scenes, strings for sleeping scenes, and a wooden organ is used for the main character Orfeo .

Monteverdi: Penelope's aria “Di misera, regina” from Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria

Monteverdi expands the vocal line of the recitar cantando to a more aria-like style and gives the choirs greater weight. His late works Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (1640) and L'incoronazione di Poppea (1643) are high points in operatic history in terms of their drama. Even in this last opera Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea , one finds the prologue by three allegorical figures shown in the Fortuna the Virtù mocked (virtue). The rest of the action takes place in the earthly world around the Roman emperor Nero , his unloved wife Ottavia and Poppea , the wife of the praetor Ottone . This becomes Nero's wife and empress. Nero's brutal character is represented by a castrato and correspondingly virtuoso music, Ottone, on the other hand, appears soft, and Nero's worthy teacher and adviser Seneca is assigned the bass voice. Bel canto singing and coloratura richness are used for the nobility and for gods, for the rest of the people simpler ariosi and songs.

17th century


Teatro San Carlo di Napoli, 1735

In 1637 the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice was opened as the first public opera house. New venues were created in quick succession, and Venice, with its “Venetian Opera”, became the operatic center of northern Italy. Historical representations soon replaced the mythical subjects, such as in the opera L'incoronazione di Poppea (1642), which still bears the name Claudio Monteverdis, although research since Alan Curtis has discussed whether it is rather a pasticcio that is the made use of famous names.

The audience of these operas was composed primarily of members of the non-aristocratic classes. The game plan was determined by the financial nobility based on the taste of the public. In this context, the opera that emerged from the academies was commercialized and simplified, and the orchestra was reduced. The da capo aria preceded by a recitative shaped solo singing for a long time; choirs and ensembles were shortened. Mistakes and intrigues formed the basic structure of the plot, which was enriched with comic scenes from the popular secondary characters. Francesco Cavalli and Antonio Cesti were the most famous Venetian opera composers in the generation that followed Monteverdi. The writers Giovanni Francesco Busenello and Giovanni Faustini were regarded as style-forming and were often imitated.

Since the 1650s, the city of Naples became the second opera center in Italy, more strongly influenced by the taste of the aristocracy. The composer Francesco Provenzale is considered to be the founder of Neapolitan opera . In the following generation, Alessandro Scarlatti became a pioneer of the Neapolitan school .

The librettists got their money from the sale of text books, which were distributed together with wax candles to read along before the performance. For a long time the literature of Renaissance humanism remained the model for Italian opera texts.

Operas were only given at certain seasons (Italian: stagione ): during Carnival, from Easter to the summer break and from autumn to Advent. Oratorios were played instead during the Passion and Advent season . In Rome , not only machine effects and choirs were given greater weight, but also spiritual matters.

Armide von Lully in the Palais Royal , 1761


In Paris , Jean-Baptiste Lully and his librettist Philippe Quinault developed a French version of the opera, the most outstanding feature of which, alongside the choirs, is the ballet . Lully wrote a French version of Cavalli's L'ercole amante (1662), in which he inserted ballets that were more acclaimed than the opera. Cadmus et Hermione (1673) is regarded as the first tragédie lyrique and remained a model for subsequent French operas.

The opera imported from Italy was pushed back by the tragédie lyrique. Nevertheless, Lully's successors Marc-Antoine Charpentier and André Campra tried to combine French and Italian stylistic devices.

German language area

Based on Italian models, an independent opera tradition developed within the German-speaking area as early as the middle of the 17th century, which also includes the use of German-language libretti.

The first opera by a “German” composer was the (lost) Dafne by Heinrich Schütz in 1627, who had become acquainted with the musical form of opera while studying in Italy from 1609 to 1613. Only a few years later, the first surviving German-language opera by Sigmund Theophil Staden was written in 1644, based on a libretto by Georg Philipp Harsdörffer Das Geistlich Waldgedicht or Freudenspiel, called Seelewig , a pastoral didactic piece in close proximity to the moralizing school drama of the Renaissance.

Shortly after the Thirty Years' War, opera houses in German-speaking countries increasingly established themselves as central meeting places and places of representation for the leading social classes. The leading ducal and royal houses played a central role, increasingly affording their own court theaters and the associated artists, which were usually also open to the (wealthy) public. Munich received its first opera house in 1657 and Dresden in 1667.

Commoners, d. H. “Public and popular” opera houses financed by cities and / or private bourgeois actors, such as those in Venice, only existed in Hamburg (1678), Hanover (1689) and Leipzig (1693). In deliberate contrast to the operation at the “aristocratic” houses, which is dominated by Italian-language operas, the Hamburg Opera on Gänsemarkt in particular, as Germany's oldest bourgeois opera house, deliberately relied on German-language works and authors. Like Handel , Keizer , Mattheson and Telemann . From the beginning of the 18th century they established an independent German-language opera and singspiel tradition using German-language libretti by poets such as Elmenhorst , Feind , Hunold and Postel . The importance of Hamburg for the development of an independent German-language opera tradition is also underlined by the two contemporary writings on the theory of opera: Heinrich Elmenhorst's Dramatologia (1688) and Barthold Feind's Gedancken from the Opera (1708).


In England the opera spread relatively late. The predominant musical theater form in the time of Elizabethan theater was the masque , a combination of dance, pantomime, spoken theater and musical interludes, in which the text set to music was usually not directly related to the plot. Following the Puritan ban on music and theater performances in 1642, it was not until the Stuart Restoration that began in 1660 that a theater life was established, in which opera was integrated.

Henry Purcell's one-hour opera Dido and Aeneas (probably first performed in 1689, libretto: Nahum Tate ) is a unique work in every respect . The composer takes up elements of French and Italian opera, but develops his own tonal language, which is characterized above all by the fact that it remains very close to the text. Choir passages and dance-like sections contrast with the arioso passages of the main characters, which manage almost without aria-like forms. The changing moods and situations are precisely reproduced with musical means; the final scene, when the Carthaginian queen Dido dies of a broken heart out of an unhappy love for the Trojan hero Aeneas , is one of the most moving in opera literature.

18th century

General development

In the course of the 18th century, two types of opera emerged: In addition to the established opera seria as a form primarily borne by the nobility's need for representation and legitimation, which is primarily based on mythological or historical material and its personnel made up of gods, demigods, heroes, princes and their own Beloved and their servants, the opera buffa develops around 1720 with initially crude comic acts that develop into bourgeois-sentimental ones.

In France, the courtly tragédie lyrique , with its more full instrumentation compared to older Italian operas, and the opéra-comique , which comes from the Parisian fair theater, compete with the Italian operas . These genres encourage opera performances in their own language outside of France as well, as a local counterweight to the ubiquitous Italian virtuosos.

Marco Ricci : Opera rehearsal , 1709

The style- defining tendency in Italy in the second quarter of the 18th century to turn the original dramma per musica into an aria concerto or a number opera with a fixed content and music. Another central development during the first half of the 18th century is the division of the da capo arias , which have grown to five parts, with the sequence AA'-B-AA 'into specific subgroups:

  • Aria di bravura (bravura aria ) with lavish coloratura;
  • Aria cantabile with beautiful lines;
  • Aria di mezzo carattere with characteristic orchestral accompaniment;
  • Aria concertata with concertos instruments;
  • Aria parlante , which describes violent emotional outbursts.

The star of the evening was also able to insert a virtuoso aria baule ("suitcase aria") that had nothing to do with the plot. Such arias could easily be exchanged or used several times. The bel canto -Gesang was included the extreme high notes, supple trills and long jumps to a presentation virtuoso vocal techniques.


Because the concept of faithfulness to the work was not yet established in the 18th century and the client and audience always wanted new, never-before-heard operas, and because many opera companies often had only limited resources for instrumentalists and singers, there was widespread performance practice in the 18th century in putting together arias and ensembles from different works as effectively as possible, depending on the existing cast, and underlaying such a sequence of musical numbers with new texts and a new plot. This type of opera was called pasticcio ; An opera pasticcio could come from the pen of a single composer who reused existing numbers from earlier works, or it could be composed of works by different composers. This practice led to the fact that the plot and mood of an opera performance were not fixed until the end of the 18th century - at some venues even into the 1830s - and were subject to constant adaptations, changes and changes. The practice of pasticcio meant that until the beginning of the 19th century hardly any performance of the same work was musically or in terms of content similar to a previous one.

Number opera

The ensuing chaos - generated by the strategy of meeting different expectations at the same time - repelled the Italian librettists Apostolo Zeno and Pietro Metastasio . As a countermeasure, from the late 1730s onwards, they increasingly dispensed with superfluous side plots, mythical allegories and secondary characters and instead preferred a clear, comprehensible plot and language. In doing so, they created the basis for a “more serious” type of opera beyond the usual performance practice of the opera seria . The plot scheme developed for this purpose gradually entangles the main characters in a seemingly insoluble dilemma, which at the end turns out to be good due to an unexpected idea ( lieto fine ). Both authors initiated a renewal of the opera poetically. Against the arbitrariness of the pasticcio , they numbered the musical parts, which made it difficult to exchange them. In this way they contributed significantly to the development of the number opera with its fixed sequence. As a self-contained work with a stringent plot, the opera was now able to hold its own against the drama .

Opera buffa

The genre of the opera buffa emerged simultaneously in Naples and Venice as a mostly cheerful and realistic type of opera. On the one hand there were independent musical comedies, on the other hand the comic interludes to the opera seria at the beginning of the 1730s, from which Apostolo Zeno and Pietro Metastasio had excluded the comic elements so that they had to be limited to interludes between the acts. As a style-defining works, the opera apply Lo frate 'nnamorato of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi , premiered on September 28, 1732 at the Teatro dei Fiorentini in Naples, and premiered in Venice in the mid-1740s works Baldassare Galuppi , in close collaboration with Carlo Goldoni emerged .

In terms of content, the Opera Buffa drew from the rich fund of Commedia dell'arte . The acts were often mixed-up comedies, the staff of which consisted of a noble pair of lovers and two subordinates, often maidservants and servants. In contrast to the opera seria, the latter can appear as the main actors, with which a bourgeois and sub-bourgeois audience could identify. The opera buffa was also valued by the aristocracy, who hardly took their provocations seriously.

Development of the Opera buffa to the Opera semiseria

From the middle of the 18th century, comedy began to shift in the opera buffa to everyday and contemporary actions in which nobles were no longer invulnerable. Mozart's Don Giovanni (1787) was initially viewed as an opera buffa and was not reinterpreted until the 19th century, when the fate of the bourgeois seduced could be taken seriously and the noble seducer could be viewed as a villain.

An expression of these changes is the further development of the opera buffa to the type of opera semiseria at the end of the 18th century, because a middle-class audience no longer wanted to see themselves laughed at on stage. The everyday proximity of the opera buffa and its French counterpart, the opéra-comique , had social explosive power in the second half of the 18th century. The Buffonist controversy that took place in France from 1752 to 1754 was related to this . Jean-Jacques Rousseau valued the bourgeois "cheerful" type of opera more than the tragédie lyrique of the high aristocracy. His condemnation of French opera in favor of Italian led to angry reactions.


In the English-speaking world, Georg Friedrich Händel (Anglicized George Frideric Handel) became one of the most productive opera composers (more than 45 operas). His work in London did not have the desired business success, u. a. because of the strong competition from the famous castrato Farinelli , who sang in the rival opera troupe, and ruinous fees for the dedicated prima donna. In the 20th century, Alcina , Giulio Cesare and Serse , in particular , returned to the repertoire, and in the last few decades many other Handel operas (including Ariodante , Rodelinda , Giustino ). After the historical performance practice had been better researched in the course of the early music movement , style-defining productions were also made at the large opera houses with the help of baroque specialists.

Jean-Michel Moreau : scene for Le devin du village (1753)


The French counterpart to the controversial opera buffa in Paris was the Opéra-comique . The recitatives have been replaced by spoken dialogues. This model was also successful abroad. The new simplicity and closeness to life is also reflected in smaller arietas and nouveaux airs , which, in contrast to the well-known vaudevilles, were newly composed.

In 1752 France experienced a new confrontation between French and Italian opera, which went down in history as the Buffonist dispute . Giovanni Battista Pergolesi's opera La serva padrona (German: The maid as mistress ) was the occasion for this. Against the artificiality and stylization of the traditional French aristocratic opera, especially Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot , who defended themselves against the art and stylization of Rameau's . In addition to the deliberately simple opera Le devin du village (German: Der Dorfwahrsager ), Rousseau also wrote an award-winning treatise entitled Discours sur les sciences et les arts (1750), in which he declares a life unspoiled by science and culture to be the ideal. He wrote other musical articles for the famous comprehensive encyclopédie of the French Enlightenment. The Buffonist dispute ultimately went to the detriment of the Italian opera troupe, which was expelled from the city. The dispute was thus over for the time being, but the Grand Opéra was still lagging behind the Opéra comique in terms of popularity.

German language area

Schikaneder as the first Papageno , 1791

The closure of the opera on Gänsemarkt in 1738 led to a further strengthening of the Italian-speaking opera business in the German-speaking area, which was already dominant at that time. However, starting from the Hamburg model, the practice of translating the recitatives into German for performances of French and Italian operas and, mainly for musical reasons, only keeping the original language of the arias became established in the mid-18th century. From the middle of the 18th century, the sale or distribution of printed explanations and translations of non-German-language works to the public in German became more and more common.

Around 1780, with the work of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , a development that lasted well into the 19th century began, which led to the increasing displacement of the previously dominant Italian in favor of German-language works and performances in German translation. In doing so, Mozart found his very own way of dealing with the tradition of Italian opera. In his youth he was successful several times in Italy (including with Lucio Silla and Mitridate, re di Ponto ) and composed his first masterpiece for Munich with Idomeneo (1781), an opera seria also written in Italian . He was to return to this form with La clemenza di Tito (1791) shortly before his death. After the musical plays Bastien and Bastienne , Zaide (fragment) and Die Entführung aus dem Seraglio (with this opera premiered in 1782 he succeeded in establishing himself as a freelance composer in Vienna) he made it in his Figaro (1786) and even more in Don Giovanni (1787), Opera seria and Opera buffa come closer together again. In addition to the latter, a third work was created in 1790 in a congenial collaboration with the librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte Così fan tutte . In Der Zauberflöte (1791) Mozart combined elements of the opera with those of the Singspiel and the locally prevailing old Viennese magic theater , which derived its effect particularly from spectacular stage effects and a fairytale plot. There were also ideas and symbols from Freemasonry (Mozart was himself a member of the lodge). Mozart operas (and especially the Magic Flute ) are still part of the standard repertoire of every opera house. He himself described the opera as a "great opera in 2 acts".

Opera reform

Title vignette for Orfeo ed Euridice (Paris 1764)

Christoph Willibald Gluck , who was also active in both Italy and Vienna, led a comprehensive operatic reform with his operas Orfeo ed Euridice (1762) and Alceste (1767), in which he combined elements of serious opera from Italy and France with the more realistic level of action of opera buffa one. The consistently clear and logically structured course of action, designed by Ranieri de 'Calzabigi , manages without complex intrigues or confusion drama. The number of protagonists is shrinking. The primary goal is greater simplicity and traceability of the plot.

Gluck's music is completely subordinate to the dramaturgy and text, characterizes situations and people and does not stand for the belcanto singing itself. Composed or strophic songs replaced the da capo aria. This achieved a new naturalness and simplicity that counteracted hollow pathos and singer mannerisms. True to the ancient model, the choir took an active part in the action. The overture relates to the plot and is no longer a detached instrumental piece before the opera. Italian arioso, French ballet and pantomime, English and German song as well as vaudeville were integrated into the opera, not as single pieces standing side by side, but as a new classical style. Gluck's aesthetic ideas were brought to a new bloom by his student Antonio Salieri in the late 18th century. The operas Les Danaïdes , Tarare and Axur, re d'Ormus are particularly important .

Disappearance of the castrati games

Another expression of the greater proximity to everyday life of the opera buffa and the innovations in the opera reform suggested by Christoph Willibald Gluck is the practice that began in the second half of the 18th century to forego high castrati roles for male roles in favor of more realistic voices. In addition to the deliberate demarcation from the opera culture of the opera seria of the nobility, which is strongly influenced by the virtuosity of the castrati, cost reasons played a decisive role in this. Since impresarios aimed the opera buffa at a less affluent bourgeois and sub-bourgeois audience, the horrific costs for the fee of a well-known castrato could hardly be earned. The resulting identification of the virtuoso culture of the castrato roles with the expensive tradition of the opera seria, which was shaped by the nobility, also explains the disappearance of the castrati from the opera business after the end of the Ancien Régime and the consequent rise of the "more natural" voices in the opera buffa and Opera semiseria formed the middle class to the social class of the 19th century that was also leading in opera.

19th century

General development

In the first quarter of the 19th century, the recitatives accompanied by the figured bass increasingly disappeared in favor of a notated orchestral version. In addition to the leading Italian opera and the French opera types, other national opera forms gradually appeared, first in Germany. The French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon showed their effects on opera most clearly in Ludwig van Beethoven's only opera Fidelio and Leonore (1805, 1806 and 1814). The dramaturgy and musical language were clearly based on Luigi Cherubini's Médée (1797). The plot is based on a "fait historique" by Jean-Nicolas Bouilly , which was composed in 1798 by Pierre Gaveaux under the title Léonore, ou L'amour conjugal ; the ideals of the French Revolution therefore also form the background of Beethoven's opera. Fidelio can be counted among the type of " rescue opera " in which the dramatic salvation of a person from great danger is the subject. The work is formally inconsistent: the first part is like a song, the second with the large-scale choral finale achieves symphonic impact and approaches the oratorio . After the Magic Flute and Fidelio , German production needed several attempts to finally develop its own operatic language in the Romantic era. ETA Hoffmann provided one of the most important preliminary stages with his romantic opera Undine and Louis Spohr with his setting of Faust (both 1816).

German language area

Fierrabras by Franz Schubert , Salzburg Festival 2014

After all , it was Carl Maria von Weber who, from the tradition of the Singspiel, brought German opera to life in the form of Freischütz in the orchestra in 1821 with a great deal of dramatic color . His work Oberon (London 1826), which was hardly played because of the poor textbook, attached so much importance to the orchestra that well-known composers such as Gustav Mahler , Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky later referred to it.

Other composers of German Romanticism were the highly romantic Franz Schubert ( Fierrabras , composed 1823, premier 1897), whose friends could not provide him with a congenial text, and Robert Schumann , who, with the setting of the Genoveva material popular among romantics, was only one of the most well-known opera composers Opera (1850) presented. Also to be mentioned are Heinrich Marschner , who exerted great influence on Richard Wagner with his operas about supernatural events and depictions of nature ( Hans Heiling , 1833) , Albert Lortzing with his play operas (including Zar and Zimmermann , 1837, and Der Wildschütz , 1842), Friedrich von Flotow with his comic opera Martha (1847) and finally Otto Nicolai , who brought something “italianità” to German opera with the Lustige Frau von Windsor (1849).

Richard Wagner finally reshaped the opera so fundamentally according to his ideas that the above-mentioned German composers suddenly faded away next to him. With Rienzi (1842) the hitherto rather unfortunate Wagner had his first success in Dresden; it was later surpassed by The Flying Dutchman (1843). Because of his involvement in the March Revolution of 1848 in Dresden , Wagner had to go into exile in Switzerland for many years. His later father-in-law Franz Liszt contributed to the fact that Wagner was still present in Germany with the world premiere of Lohengrin (1850) in Weimar . With the support of the young Bavarian King Ludwig II , Wagner was finally able to realize the long-cherished plan of the Ring des Nibelungen , for which he had the Bayreuth Festival Theater built, in which only his works are played to this day.

Richard Wagner

The fundamental innovation of Wagner consisted in the complete dissolution of the number opera. There were already tendencies towards a well-composed opera in Weber's Freischütz or in Robert Schumann's rarely played Genoveva (1850). This development was only fully completed by Wagner. In addition, he treated voices and orchestral parts on an equal footing. The orchestra no longer accompanies the singer, but acts as a “ mystical abyss ” in a diverse relationship to what is sung. The length of Wagner's operas demands a lot of concentration and perseverance from singers and listeners. The themes of his - with the exception of a few early works and the Meistersinger  - consistently serious operas, the librettos of which he wrote all himself, are often redemption through love, renunciation or death.

In Tristan und Isolde (1865) Wagner largely relocated the drama to the psychological interior of the main characters, which he was then able to illuminate with his music - the external plot of the opera, on the other hand, is unusually uneventful. The design of this “oceanic” interior also served the purpose of harmonics, which with the “ Tristan chord ” pushed the harmonic rules that had been valid up until then into the background and thus went down in music history. Musically, Wagner's operas are characterized both by his ingenious treatment of the orchestral setting, which also had a strong influence on the symphonic music of the time up to Gustav Mahler , and by the use of recurring motifs, the so-called leitmotifs , which deal with figures and situations , individual terms or with certain ideas. With the Ring des Nibelungen (composed 1853–1876), probably the best-known opera cycle in four parts (hence also simply called "the tetralogy") with a total performance time of around 16 hours, Wagner created a monumental musical and dramatic realization of his opera and drama ( 1852) developed a reform of the traditional opera. The Parsifal stage consecration festival was the last of his operas, which divided the music world into two camps and aroused both imitators ( Engelbert Humperdinck , Richard Strauss before his Salome ) and skeptics - especially in France.


In France, the form of the opéra-comique , developed in the second half of the 18th century, initially prevailed . Daniel-François-Esprit Auber succeeded with his opera La muette de Portici (1828), the title heroine of which was portrayed by a ballerina who remained silent, the connection to the Grand opéra ("great opera"). The playwright Eugène Scribe became their leading librettist. In the Grand opéra, in addition to the intricacies of the typical operatic love story, historical-political motifs came to the fore, as was clearly shown in Rossini's last opera Guillaume Tell (1829). The most successful representative of the Grand Opéra was Giacomo Meyerbeer , with his works Robert le diable (1831), Les Huguenots (1836) and Le prophète (1849), which were played in the international repertoire for decades and into the early 20th century. Other important examples are La Juive (“The Jewess”, 1835) by Halévy , Donizetti's Dom Sébastien (1843), or Verdi's Don Carlos (1867).

From around 1850 onwards, opéra comique and grand opéra merged into a new form of opera without dialogue. In 1875, Georges Bizet wrote his best-known stage work Carmen as Opéra comique, the recitatives of which were added posthumously by Ernest Guiraud . If the “realistic” plot and tone of the work do not match a grand opéra, the tragic ending, which initially failed at the premiere, contradicts the opéra comique. Further examples of the mixing of opéra comique and grand opéra are Charles Gounod's Faust (1859) - here the term drame lyrique is used for the first time - and Jacques Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffmann ( Hoffmann's stories , 1871–1880).


Finally, Russia came on the scene with its first national operas, nourished by importing other successes from the West. Michail Glinka composed the opera Жизнь за царя ( Schisn sa zarja, German: A life for the tsar , renamed Iwan Sussanin in the Soviet Union ) in 1836 . The work has a Russian subject, but musically it is still strongly influenced by Western influences. His most famous opera Ruslan and Lyudmila exerted a great influence on the following generations of Russian composers. With Boris Godunov (1874) after a drama by Alexander Pushkin, Modest Mussorgsky finally broke away from Western influences. Even Borodin's Prince Igor (1890) further led Glinka's heritage. Pyotr Tchaikovsky stood between Russian traditions and those of the Western world and, with Eugene Onegin (1879) and the Queen of Spades (1890), designed romantic dramas with bourgeois staff, both of which are also based on a model by Pushkin.


In Bohemia , Bedřich Smetana and Antonín Dvořák were the most frequently performed composers of the Prague National Opera, which began with Smetana's Libusa (1881) in the new National Theater in Prague. The Sold Bride (1866) by the same composer became an export hit. Dvořak's opera Rusalka (1901) combined popular legends and German fairy tale sources into a lyrical fairy tale opera. Bohuslav Martinů and Leoš Janáček continued their efforts. The latter composer has been rediscovered in his modernity in recent decades and has increasingly conquered the repertoire. While The Cunning Little Vixen (1924) is still mostly performed in the German translation by Max Brod , other works such as Jenůfa (1904), Káťa Kabanová (1921) or Věc Makropulos (1926) are increasingly being performed in the original Czech version; this is important because Janáček's tonal language is closely based on the phonetics and prosody of his mother tongue.


Italy fell into the hands of the young and extremely productive bel canto composer Gioachino Rossini from 1813, when his operas Tancredi and L'italiana were performed in Algeri . Il barbiere di Siviglia (1816), La gazza ladra (Eng. The Thieving Magpie ) and La Cenerentola (both 1817) based on the Cinderella fairy tale by Charles Perrault can be found in the standard repertoire of opera houses to this day. Springy rhythm and a brilliant and witty orchestration, as well as a virtuoso treatment of the singing voice, made Rossini one of the most popular and revered composers in Europe. Rossini wrote down the improvised decorations of the singers that were still customary up to now in his roles, thereby preventing excessive improvisations. He realized a new formal idea with his scena ed aria , which relaxed the rigid alternation between recitative and aria and yet maintained the principle of number opera. In addition, Rossini wrote a number of opera series (e.g. his Otello , 1816, or Semiramide , 1823). In 1824 he went to Paris and wrote important works for the Opéra. He wrote a political grand opéra on Wilhelm Tell ( Guillaume Tell , 1829), which was banned in Austria and performed in various European locations in a defused version with other main heroes.

Giuseppe Verdi
Enrico Caruso, Bessie Abott, Louise Homer, Antonio Scotti, sing the quartet "Bella figlia dell'amore" from Verdi's Rigoletto

Rossini's younger contemporaries and successors initially copied his coloratura style, until Vincenzo Bellini and Gaetano Donizetti in particular managed to emancipate themselves from the overpowering model with their own, somewhat simpler, more expressive and more romantic style. Bellini was famous for the expressive and sophisticated declamation of his recitatives and the "infinitely" long and expressive melodies of his operas, such as Il pirata (1827), I Capuleti ei Montecchi (1830), I puritani (1835), La sonnambula (1831), and especially Norma (1831). Bellini wrote the title role of this opera with the famous aria “Casta diva”, just like Amina in La sonnambula , for the great singer Giuditta Pasta . The Norma is so demanding that it can only be sung and interpreted by very few great singers; it was torn from oblivion again by Maria Callas' historical interpretation .

Donizetti, who was a few years older than him, was an extremely hardworking composer who rose to become the most successful Italian opera composer alongside Bellini and especially after his untimely death (1835). He had his first major breakthrough with Anna Bolena (1830), whose title role was also created by Pasta and rediscovered by Callas. On the other hand, Lucia di Lammermoor (1835) with the famous mad scene rich in coloratures has never completely disappeared from the repertoire and remains alongside the cheerful operas L'elisir d'amore (1832), Don Pasquale (1843), and La fille du régiment (1840) consistently on the repertoire of opera houses.

Bellini's wide arcs of melody made a strong impression on the young Giuseppe Verdi . Since his third opera, Nabucco , he was considered a national composer for Italy, which was still ruled by the Habsburgs . The choir “Va, pensiero, sull 'ali dorate” developed into the country's secret national anthem . Musically, Verdi's music is characterized by a strongly emphasized, clear rhythm, over which simple, often extremely expressive melodies develop. In his operas, in which Verdi, with an unmistakable theatrical instinct, often contributed to the textbook himself, choral scenes initially occupy an important position. Verdi increasingly abandoned traditional number opera; Constant emotional tension required a varied mix of the individual scenes and arias. With Macbeth , Verdi finally turned away from number opera and continued on his path of intimate character portrayal of individuals. With La traviata (1853, based on the 1848 novel The Lady of the Camellias by Alexandre Dumas the Younger , which revolves around the authentic figure of the courtesan Marie Duplessis ), he brought a contemporary subject to the opera stage for the first time, but was forced by the censors to take the plot to relocate from the present. Verdi often set literary sources to music, for example by Friedrich Schiller (e.g. Luisa Miller after Kabale und Liebe or I masnadieri after Die Räuber ), Shakespeare or Victor Hugo ( Rigoletto ). With his contributions to the Grand Opéra written for Paris (e.g. Don Carlos , 1867), he also renewed this form and took up elements of Richard Wagner's musical drama with the late Otello until he came up with the surprising comedy Falstaff (1893; poetry in both Cases of Arrigo Boito ) composed his last of almost 30 operas at the age of 80. Probably his most popular opera is Aida , written in 1871.

Turn of the century

Francisca Pomar de Maristany sings “Vissi d'arte” from Giacomo Puccini's Tosca - recording from 1929

After Verdi resigned, the young Verists (Italian: vero = true) conquered the scene in Italy. Unbeautified naturalism was one of their highest aesthetic ideals - accordingly, neatly written verses were refrained from. Pietro Mascagni ( Cavalleria rusticana , 1890) and Ruggero Leoncavallo ( Pagliacci , 1892) were the most typical composers of this period. Giacomo Puccini , on the other hand, grew in fame far beyond her and is still one of the most frequently performed opera composers to this day. La Bohème (1896), a moral painting from Paris at the turn of the century, the "political thriller" Tosca (1900, based on the drama of the same name by Victorien Sardou) and the Far Eastern Madama Butterfly (1904), with the unfinished Turandot (premiered posthumously in 1926) another increased in exoticism, have become hits mainly because of their melodies. Puccini was an eminent theatrical artist and knew exactly how to write for the voice; the instrumentation of his scores, which are mostly set for a large orchestra, is very differentiated and masterful. At the moment, the Italian-German composer Alberto Franchetti , who was very popular at the time , is being hesitantly rediscovered , despite his three world successes ( Asrael , Christoforo Colombo and Germania ).

Early 20th century

Mary Garden as Melisande


Claude Debussy finally managed to free himself from the influence of the German, and with Pelléas et Mélisande in 1902 he created one of the most nuanced examples of the leitmotif technique adopted by Wagner . Maurice Maeterlinck's original text offered a lot of ambiguous symbolisms that Debussy adopted into the orchestral language. Almost all of the vocal parts were designed as recitative and offered a counterexample to Wagner's “infinite melody” with the “infinite recitative”. One of the rare exceptions that offer the listener a vocal line is the simple song of Mélisande, which, because of its brevity and lack of decoration, can hardly be regarded as a real aria.

Vienna School

After Richard Strauss , who initially became a late romantic expressionist with Salome and Elektra , but then returned to earlier compositional styles with Der Rosenkavalier and a number of works are still played a lot today (e.g. Ariadne auf Naxos , Arabella , Die Frau ohne Shadow and The Silent Woman ), only a few composers managed to find a permanent place in the repertoire of opera houses. Instead, the works of the past were (and are) maintained. The inclusion of a contemporary work in the standard repertoire remains the exception.

Alban Berg succeeded in doing this with his operas Wozzeck , which was laid out as a free-tonal, and Lulu , which makes full use of twelve-tone music. The first fragment of Lulu was completed in its three-act form by Friedrich Cerha for the Paris performance under Pierre Boulez and Patrice Chéreau . Of both operas, Wozzeck in particular , in which the content of the piece and musical vision find a unity, has now found its way into the familiar operatic repertoire in countless productions on large and small stages around the world and has achieved an undisputed position. It is very similar with Lulu, which, however, can often only be mastered by larger stages due to the effort involved in the work. However, she regularly inspires important interpreters such as Anja Silja , Evelyn Lear , Teresa Stratas or Julia Migenes .

Arnold Schönberg, 1948

Of Arnold Schoenberg which are regularly monodrama expectation  the first opera for one singer - - and the deliberately unfinished by the composer left behind, the highest demands on the choir Vice-border work Moses and Aaron listed. Expectation, written as early as 1909, but not premiered until 1924 in Prague with Marie Gutheil-Schoder under the direction of Alexander von Zemlinsky , demonstrated a specific fascination for singers (especially Anja Silja and Jessye Norman ) as well as for directors in the years following World War II (e.g. Klaus Michael Grüber with Silja 1974 in Frankfurt; Robert Wilson with Norman 1995 at the Salzburg Festival ). In 1930 Schönberg began work on Moses and Aron, which he broke off in 1937; After its staged premiere in Zurich in 1957, this opera has shown its particular suitability for the stage in numerous performances, especially since the 1970s. It is also interesting that Moses uses a spoken chant throughout the opera, the pitch of which is predetermined, while Aron sings.

Further developments in the German-speaking area

Otherwise the Vienna School left no further traces in the standard repertoire. Musically, however, every modern composer had to deal with twelve-tone music and decide whether to continue working on its basis or to think in tonal lines.

Hans Pfitzner was one of the most important composers of the first half of the century who consciously stuck to the tonal traditions. His operatic work shows influences from Richard Wagner and early Romantic composers such as Weber and Marschner. Pfitzner's music is largely determined by linear-polyphonic thinking, the harmony moves between simple diatonic and chromaticism that goes to the limits of tonality. Of all Pfitzner's operas, the musical legend Palestrina , which premiered in 1917, is best known. He also wrote: Poor Heinrich , Die Rose vom Liebesgarten , Das Christ-Elflein and Das Herz .

Franz Schreker created Der ferne Klang in 1912, one of the great operas before World War II , but was later forgotten when National Socialism pushed his works off the repertoire. After many earlier attempts, the really profound rediscovery of this composer did not begin until the 1980s, which, in addition to new productions of Der ferne Klang ( Teatro La Fenice 1984, Vienna State Opera 1991), also produced performances of Die Gezeichen , Der Schatzgräber and Irrelohe . Strongly differentiated timbres play an essential role in Schreker's music. With Schreker, Wagner's chromatic harmonies are intensified again, which often blurs the tonal ties beyond recognition.

Alexander von Zemlinsky from Vienna and Erich Wolfgang Korngold from Brno , whose works also had a difficult time after 1945, had a similar experience with Schreker . Since the 1980s, both composers have managed to regain a place in the international repertoire, Zemlinsky with dresses make the man , but especially A Florentine Tragedy , The Dwarf and The King Kandaules , Korngold with The Dead City .

The work of Walter Braunfels was also banned by the National Socialists and has only received increased attention since the end of the 20th century. With his opera Die Vögel , Braunfels was one of the most played composers on German opera stages in the 1920s. The stylistic versatility of his works is striking: if Princess Brambilla offers an alternative to the musical drama of the Wagnerian Succession based on the Commedia dell'arte , The Birds show Pfitzner's influence. With the later operas Annunciation , The Dream a Life and Jeanne d'Arc - Scenes from the Life of St. Johanna , Braunfels approaches the tonal language of the later Hindemith.

One of the most successful composers of the younger generation in the 1920s was Ernst Krenek , a student of Schreker, who initially caused a sensation with expressionist works that were kept in free atonality. His 1927 opera Jonny plays , which takes up elements of jazz, was a scandalous success. It is a typical example of the genre of "Zeitoper" that emerged at that time, which took its actions from the everyday life of the time, which was strongly determined by the change in different fashions. Krenek's music was later rejected by the National Socialists as "degenerate" and banned. The composer emigrated to the USA and had more than 20 operas by 1973, in which the changeful development of the music of the 20th century is exemplarily reflected.

Second World War

The Second World War marked a major turning point in the history of Europe and America, which also had an impact on the musical world. In Germany, operas with modern sounds were rarely played and were increasingly sidelined. A typical example of this is Paul Hindemith , who in the 1920s was regarded as a musical "bourgeoisie" with works such as the opera Cardillac , but after 1930 finally found a moderately modern style with a neoclassical character. a. Mathis the painter (from parts of this opera the composer put together a much-played symphony). Despite the change in style, Hindemith felt the rejection clearly because Adolf Hitler had taken personal offense at his opera Neues von Tag , which he completed in 1929 . Finally, Hindemith's works were labeled “degenerate” and their performance was banned. Like other artists and composers before and after him, Hindemith went into exile in 1938.

Time after 1945

General development

The period after 1945 was marked by a clear internationalization and individualization of the opera business, which made the division into national traditions that had been common up to that point hardly seem meaningful.

Opera became more and more dependent on the composer's individual influences than on general trends. The constant presence of the “classics” of the operatic repertoire increased the demands on modern operas, and each composer had to find his own way to deal with the past, to continue it, to alienate it or to break with it. In the following, operas emerged again and again that burst the boundaries of the genre and sought to overcome them. On a musical and textual level, the composers increasingly left familiar territory and included the stage and the scenic action in the - often enough abstract - musical sequence. A characteristic of the expansion of visual means in the 20th century are the video projections that initially accompany the action and later become more independent.

Bo Skovhus as Lear in the opera of the same name by Aribert Reimann at the Hamburg State Opera 2012. Photo: Brinkhoff Moegenburg

In the increasing individualization of musical language, trends can nonetheless be recognized in opera in the second half of the 20th century: on the one hand, literary operas , the dramaturgy of which is largely based on tradition. However, more and more current materials and libretti are used for this purpose. Nevertheless, two pioneering works of this time are of all operas that use literary classics as a basis, namely Bernd Alois Zimmermann's opera The Soldiers based on Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz and Aribert Reimann's Lear based on William Shakespeare . Further examples of the literary opera would be Reimann's Das Schloss (after Kafka ) and Bernarda Albas Haus (after Lorca ). Political subjects are also increasingly being set to music, starting with Luigi Nono and Hans Werner Henze ; a more recent example is Gerhard Rosenfeld's opera Kniefall in Warsaw about Willy Brandt , the premiere of which in 1997 in Dortmund had little effect on the public and the press and did not result in any follow-up productions.

If Luigi Nono's works can no longer be categorized as literary opera due to their experimental musical language, the dramaturgy of the opera is also explored for its experimental possibilities. The term opera therefore underwent a change in the second half of the 20th century, many composers replaced it with music theater or musical scenes and only used the term opera for works that were explicitly linked to tradition. In the works of experimental composers not only a creative handling of text and dramaturgy can be discovered, the stage, the orchestral line-up and, last but not least, the music itself overcomes conservative patterns, the genre can no longer be clearly delimited here. New media such as video and electronics are also being used, but drama, dance and performance are also finding their way into opera.

Another Italian composer embodies his very own voice in contemporary music theater: Salvatore Sciarrino . With his interest in timbres or the silence in music, he creates. Some of the works are unmistakable thanks to the composition techniques of the Renaissance (e.g. in his opera Luci mie traditrici from 1998 about the life of the madrigal composer Carlo Gesualdo ).

Benjamin Britten brought modern England to the international opera stage. The best known of his mostly tonal operas are A Midsummer Night's Dream , based on the play William Shakespeare , Albert Herring , Billy Budd and Peter Grimes . Britten's love and talent for sound painting was shown again and again, especially in the representation of the sea.

The Dialogues des Carmélites (Conversations of the Carmelites , first performed in 1957) by Francis Poulenc are considered one of the most important works of modern music theater. The basis is the historical material of the martyrs of Compiègne , who in 1794 walked to the scaffold singing under the eyes of the revolutionary tribunal after they had refused to break their religious vows. The second famous opera for a single singer also goes back to Poulenc: In La voix humaine , the person who is simply referred to as a “woman” breaks because of the infidelity of her lover, who dumps her over the phone. Luciano Berio also used a commentary chorus for the female main character “Sie” in Passaggio .

The composer Philip Glass , who arrested Minimal Music , no longer used connected sentences for Einstein on the Beach , but instead used numbers, solfège syllables, nonsense words. The presentation of the events on the stage was decisive. In 1976, Einstein on the Beach was created , the first part of a trilogy in which Satyagraha and Akhnaten are also represented - homages to personalities who changed world history: Albert Einstein , Mahatma Gandhi and the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhnaton . Glass' works have shown great public appeal , especially in connection with the congenial productions by Robert Wilson or Achim Freyer .

Mauricio Kagel's theatrical works are just as often works about music or theater itself, which can best be classified as "scenic-musical action" - the music is hardly fixed, as Kagel allows himself to be freely improvised by his performers, who use non-instruments ( Zips, baby bottles, etc.) or use them in an unusual way, sing meaningless syllables or create actions and / or music by chance or improvised reading. With wit, Kagel practiced subtle criticism of the state and theater, the military, the art industry, etc. His most famous work, Staatstheater , caused scandals , in which its hidden mechanisms are brought to the surface.

Luigi Nono , on the other hand, used his music to accuse political and social ills. This becomes particularly clear in Intolleranza 1960 , where a man on a trip to his home country experiences demonstrations, protests, torture, concentration camps , prison and abuse up to and including a flood, and finally realizes that his home is where he is needed.

A very productive composer was Hans Werner Henze , who was awarded the Premium Imperiale of the Japan Art Foundation (so-called Nobel Prize for Art ) in 2003 . From the beginning he was in conflict with the prevailing currents of contemporary music in Germany, some of which were dogmatically oriented (keyword Darmstadt or Donaueschingen , see above), took up serial techniques, but also used completely different composition techniques, including aleatoric . At the beginning of his operatic career he worked with the poet Ingeborg Bachmann ( The Young Lord , 1952, and Kleist's adaptation The Prince of Homburg , 1961). The Elegy for Young Lovers (1961) was written with WH Auden and Chester Kallman, the librettists of Stravinsky's opera The Rake's Progress . He later set libretti by Edward Bond to music ( The Bassarides , 1966, and The English Cat , 1980). His work L'Upupa and the Triumph of Son's Love was premiered in 2003 at the Salzburg Festival. Henze, who has lived in Italy for many decades, has sustainably promoted and influenced many younger composers. The Biennale for New Music Theater, which he founded, has existed in Munich since 1988 .

The world parliament of the first scene of WEDNESDAY, from Stockhausen's opera cycle LIGHT. Birmingham Opera 2012

Karlheinz Stockhausen completed his heptalogy LIGHT, which he started in 1978, in 2005 . With his main work he left behind a monumental opus dealing with religious themes, consisting of seven operas, each representing a day of the week. The first operas were premiered in Milan ( Thursday , Saturday , Monday ), and in Leipzig they were performed for the first time on Tuesday and Friday . In its entirety, the complex work comprising a total of 29 hours of music has not yet been performed, not least because of the immense organizational difficulties.

The opera Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern by Helmut Lachenmann attracted attention in Germany in 1996 . It is based on the famous Christmas story by Hans Christian Andersen . In an idiosyncratic way and with partly new instrumental techniques, Lachenmann converts the feeling of cold into sound.

According to Operabase statistics , the five most performed living opera composers in the five seasons from 2013/14 to 2017/18 are the Americans Philip Glass , Jake Heggie , the Englishman Jonathan Dove , the Dutchman Leonard Evers, and the Englishman Thomas Adès . Operabase names Peter Lund on 8th, Marius Felix Lange on 11th, Wolfgang Rihm on 14th, Ludger Vollmer on 17th, and Aribert Reimann on 23rd place as the most performed German composers .

Since Humperdinck's fairy tale opera Hansel and Gretel , opera composers have repeatedly written children's operas , such as B. Henze ( Pollicino , 1980), Oliver Knussen ( Where the wild guys live , 1980 and 1984) and Wilfried Hiller ( Tranquilla Trampeltreu , Norbert Nackendick , Der Rattenfänger , Eduard auf dem Seil , Wolkenstein and Der Goggolori ).

Other important opera composers of the 20th and 21st centuries


Operas are characterized by a variety of forms that are determined by conventional compositional styles as well as by individual solutions by the composers. Therefore there is no general formula for their structure. Roughly speaking, however, one can see a development from the number opera through many different mixed forms to the thoroughly composed opera around 1900.

Number opera

From the baroque period to the romantic era, the opera is a series of self-contained pieces of music (" numbers ") that are linked by recitatives or (in the Singspiel ) spoken dialogues and represent a continuous plot . Like the drama, an opera can be divided into acts , pictures , scenes or appearances . The musical components of the opera are diverse:

Instrumental music

Closed lyrical forms

Action-packed passages and numbers

  • The recitative is a text setting that adapts to the speech rhythm and the speech melody . It mainly serves to convey action, especially in dialogue scenes. In baroque and classical music, a distinction is made between recitativo secco , (ital. Secco , dry) and recitativo accompagnato (ital. Accompagnato , accompanied). In the secco recitative, only the vocal and bass parts are notated, later also the associated chords as figured bass or in written form. The singer is accompanied by one or a few instruments, mostly a bass and a harmony instrument (plucked or keyboard instrument). In the 18th century this task fell increasingly only to the harpsichord and later also to the fortepiano . In the Accompagnato recitative, the accompaniment is composed out for the orchestra; it is often related to an aria whose situation it prepares.
  • The scene, in Italian Scena , arose in the 19th century from the action-oriented recitative and is accompanied by the orchestra. Usually this is followed by an aria.
  • The melodrama consists either of speaking accompanied by music, as in Antonio Salieri's Rauchfangkehrer (1781), the dungeon scene from Ludwig van Beethoven's Fidelio (1805/1814) and the Wolfsschlucht scene from Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz (1821), or just a pantomime accompanied by music as in Daniel-François-Esprit Auber's La muette de Portici (1828) or Giacomo Puccini's Suor Angelica (1918). The melodrama forms an independent form, which included entire works such as Franz Schubert's Die Zauberharfe (1820), but has now disappeared from the theaters. Today's film music draws on the effect of the melodrama .

Well-composed large form

The separation of numbers and the distinction between recitative and aria were questioned in the 19th century. From 1825 onwards, the secco recitative gradually disappeared, taking its place in Italian literature with the principle of scena ed aria , which Giuseppe Verdi used to form the acts into a larger musical whole. From the middle of the century, Richard Wagner propagated the abandonment of the number structure in favor of a well- composed whole formed on the basis of leitmotifs . For Wagner's operas the term musical drama has prevailed, the keyword " infinite melody " stands for a continuous progression of musical and emotional development, which in his opinion should prevail over musical dance forms. Wagner described his opera Tristan und Isolde (1865) as “action in music”, which should be reminiscent of the original operatic terms “favola in musica” or “dramma per musica”.

The through-composed form was generally preferred in the late 19th century, also by Jules Massenet and Giacomo Puccini , and remained the dominant model from early modernism to neoclassicism , which experimented with fragile structures and with references to forms from early operatic history. Self-contained parts from thoroughly composed operas are also performed in concerts, such as many arias from Puccini operas. Richard Strauss is regarded as the master of the well-composed large-scale form, who particularly demonstrated this in the one-act plays Salome , Elektra and Ariadne auf Naxos .

In the 20th century, many composers reverted to the number principle, for example Zoltán Kodály , Igor Stravinsky or Kurt Weill . The number opera also continues in operettas and musicals .

Opera seria and Opera buffa

In the history of opera there was mostly a “high” and a “low” style, freely following the ancient distinction between tragedy and comedy . However, this doesn't always mean a line between serious and funny. The “high” style can also rise above the “lower” simply through antique fabrics or noble figures or through a “literary” model that is to be taken seriously or through “difficult” (or merely through-composed ) music. All of these clues to what is more valuable have been attacked throughout history. There were genres that tried to weaken the contrast, such as the opera semiseria.

As long as the opera was still in the experimental stage, as it was at the beginning of the 17th century, separation was not necessary. It only came about when opera performances became common, and for social reasons: the serious opera contained aristocratic personnel and "high" political symbolism, the comic featured bourgeois characters and "insignificant" everyday actions. Gradually, Opera seria and Tragédie lyrique separated from their comic interludes , from which Opera buffa and Opéra-comique emerged . This separation was only broken at the end of the 18th century: Because the citizens no longer wanted to be portrayed in a comic (i.e. ridiculous) manner in the “lower” opera genre intended for them, the comic was often turned into the sentimental and valued. Therefore, “weird operas” are often not funny. After the French Revolution , the class clause was dissolved and bourgeois operas were allowed to be “serious”. Thus, different demarcations between tragedy and comedy emerged in the 19th century than in the 18th century.

A collective term for both tragic and comic works is the Italian dramma per musica , as the opera was called in its early days. An example of an early serious opera is Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria by Claudio Monteverdi . The serious claim results from the recourse to ancient theater materials - especially tragedies - and epic heroic poems. They have been superseded by more recent historical subjects since the later 18th century. In 19th century Italy, the term dramma was used in the composition melodramma and no longer related to ancient drama. Both Bellini's tragic opera Norma and the comedic opera L'elisir d'amore by Gaetano Donizetti were so named.

"High" style

The opera seria did not establish itself as a fixed term until the 18th century. Mixed forms or tragicomic content were excluded with this title. Handel's opera Radamisto is a typical work. As an antipode to Italy, France gave its own form of opera seria the title Tragédie lyrique , largely influenced by Jean-Baptiste Lully and the ballet at the court of Louis XIV , later by Jean-Philippe Rameau . After the French Revolution, the grand opéra gradually established itself as a bourgeois serious opera. These include Les Huguenots by Giacomo Meyerbeer , as well as less successful works such as Les Troyens by Hector Berlioz .

The well-composed music drama of the more mature Richard Wagner ( The Ring of the Nibelung ) had a great international influence. French composers of the time such as Massenet , on the other hand, relied on a transparent and vocal style of opera, for which the term drame lyrique was used. Even Debussy used this term for his opera Pelléas et Mélisande .

Opera material has always come from novels , short stories or stage works . The Italian opera of the 18th century saw itself as literature dressed in music . Since then, music has become the absolute predominance, ie since the late 19th century, is known as extremely literary operas literary opera . Death in Venice by Benjamin Britten based on Thomas Mann is a very faithful translation of the literary material into music.

"Lower" style

The comic opera is the original form of comic opera. Pergolesi's La serva padrona was considered the leading example around the mid-18th century. A late example is Il barbiere di Siviglia by Gioachino Rossini . The exceptionally cheerful operas were often less regarded than the sentimental ones. Her fabrics come from popular theater and posse , heavily influenced by the Italian Commedia dell'arte .

The French opéra-comique (type of work) emerged from the early opera buffa , which before the revolution became the opera of an increasingly self-confident bourgeoisie. At first this was understood to be a song game ( vaudeville ). But the musical part grew and began to predominate. The German-language Singspiel emerged from the Opéra-comique . The Singspiel often has a popular, bourgeois character, is characterized by simple song or rondo forms and uses spoken dialogues instead of recitatives , and occasionally melodramas between the musical numbers.

The court spoke French. The problem with German opera in the 18th and to some extent still in the 19th century was that, as a vernacular opera, it belonged to the "lower" genre and had to assert and emancipate itself. The Abduction from the Seraglio by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is one of the most famous Singspiele with this aim. Mozart also uses more complex musical forms for the arias. The work, which was commissioned by Emperor Joseph II to establish a national musical play and premiered in 1782 at the Vienna Burgtheater , was of decisive importance for the development of German opera.

Paris was a leader in opera history in the 19th century, and Italians like Rossini and Verdi also came here. The Opéra-comique , which was performed in the house of the Opéra-Comique , remained secondary to the newly created, well-composed Grand opéra , which was performed in the Opéra - less in terms of its musical importance than its social significance. For the reasons mentioned, it didn't necessarily have to be cheerful. An example of a hilariously maudlin opera-comique, also known in the German-speaking area, is The Postillon by Lonjumeau by Adolphe Adam . A group of works formally still to be called Opéra-comique after 1860 reinforced the sentimental basic character ( e.g. Mignon by Ambroise Thomas ). A sentimental element can also be found in some of Rossini's comic operas ( La Cenerentola ).

A renewal of the opéra-comique succeeded with Carmen by Georges Bizet , whose drama points in the direction of the verismo opera. With her - apart from the proletarian figures - the lurid was a characteristic of the "lower" style.

Great opera - chamber opera

The "size" can also be a sign of high or low style. Sometimes the term “grand opera” is used as a subtitle for a work. This means, for example, that the orchestra and choir should play and sing in large cast, or that the opera is a full-length work with integrated ballet. These are operas that are only performed in a larger theater and could differ from the repertoire of the traveling troops. An example of a “great opera” is Manon by Jules Massenet .

The term chamber opera , on the other hand, refers to a work that can be realized with little staff. The number of singers is usually not more than five, the orchestra is limited to one chamber orchestra . This could emerge from the hardship of material poverty and thus refer to the “lower” genre or, on the contrary, mean the greater exclusivity and concentration of a “higher” genre. The stage is also often smaller, which can contribute to a more intimate atmosphere, which is beneficial for the effect of the work. Examples would be Albert Herring by Benjamin Britten or “Les Larmes de couteau” by Bohuslav Martinů .

Genre or just subtitles?

Some opera composers also resisted classification into genre traditions or deliberately referred to their works with certain subtitles in relation to these. Wagner's Tristan and Isolde carries, for example, the term "act in music," Luciano Berio used for his work Passaggio about the term "messa in scena" ( 'staging'). George Gershwin described his work Porgy and Bess as "An American Folk Opera". In order to distance themselves from clichéd ideas, modern composers often prefer alternative names such as "azione scenica" ( Al gran sole carico d'amore by Luigi Nono) or "azione musicale" ('musical act', Un re in ascolto by Luciano Berio) . Even Peter Tchaikovsky's famous opera Eugene Onegin was called by the composer "Lyric scenes".

Other special forms

Richard Geppert wrote the German rock opera Freiheit in 2016 with the musical means of expression and instruments of rock music .

There are a few examples of operas - including John Corigliano 's work The Ghosts of Versailles , premiered in 1991 - that are self-referential in terms of form , in that they themselves contain drama or opera.

Performance practice of the opera


Due to the fact that the opera genre is not always easy to distinguish from other musical genres and genres and the practice of pasticcios , a statement about the overall scope of the opera repertoire is fraught with numerous difficulties. Current lists assume approx. 5800 to 6000 known works. If you include the not inconsiderable number of lost and lost works, especially from the 18th and early 19th centuries, a total of around 60,000 operas should be realistic.

Katarina Karnéus as Serse at the Swedish Opera Stockholm, 2009

The large number of works does not make it easy for theaters and opera houses to make a selection that meets a high standard and finds a sufficient audience. Depending on the size of the theater and the existing budget is artistic director and dramaturgy for each division of the theater (acting, musical theater, ballet, children's theater, puppet theater , etc.), a Schedule elaborated adapted the house and its employees. The program takes into account the regional peculiarities and performance traditions of the place - for example through open-air festivals, Christmas or New Year's concerts - but also indicates current trends in music theater by also performing contemporary works. Depending on the size of the house, different operas are staged anew in one season . The first public performance of a new opera is called a premiere , the first public performance of an opera in a new production is called a premiere .

Little by little, a tried and tested, more or less narrow canon of operas has emerged that are regularly on the program. Around 150 operas make up this uncertain canon. Accordingly, the interest of the feature section in particular has shifted from the already well-known works to their interpretation , with the staging moving into the foreground. The audience often associates their favorite operas with certain traditions, some of which are frozen in conventions , and reacts controversially to radical interpretive approaches (directorial theater ).

Language of the performances

Up until the mid-1960s, operas were mostly performed in the local language of the venue. Verdi operas in Germany were sung in German and Wagner operas in Italy in Italian, as shown by radio and television recordings. Even before that, there were theaters that performed operas in their original language, such as the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The Salzburg Festival always presented operas only in the original language. On the basis of a contract with La Scala in Milan , in which Italian singers undertook to also sing at the Vienna State Opera , Herbert von Karajan introduced the principle of performing operas in the original language at the Vienna State Opera in 1956. With his reasoning that the unity of word and music would be lost in translations into another language, operas were gradually being performed in their original form. The record and singer market, which was becoming increasingly international, also made a decisive contribution to this development. In the GDR, on the other hand, there was still a great tradition of translations, but new translations (e.g. Walter Felsenstein , Siegfried Schoenbohm ) attempted to translate the content of the original more precisely, linguistically more successfully and, above all, musically more appropriately. Today, in almost all major opera houses, operas are performed in the original language with simultaneous surtitles .

At many smaller theaters, especially in eastern Germany, there are still performances in German. There are also several opera houses in some cities (e.g. Berlin, Munich, Vienna), one of which performs operas in translations, such as the Volksoper Wien , the Komische Oper Berlin , the Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz in Munich, or in London the English National Opera . Every now and then there is also an authorized translation (as in the case of Leoš Janáček's operas , the German text of which comes from Janáček's friend Max Brod , so that the German text can also be considered original). It is difficult to perform in the original language whenever there are dialogues in the work. There are also mixed forms here, that is, spoken texts are translated, but sung sounds are in the original language. Translated musical theater performance is therefore widespread in the field of Singspiel , operetta and musicals . The dramaturgy at the theater is responsible for the exact translation from a foreign language. If the language skills of the répétiteurs are to be deepened, specialized coaches for a foreign language are also called in.

See also



Trade journals

Web links

Wiktionary: Opera  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Opera  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Opera  - Sources and Full Texts
Wikiquote: Opera  - Quotes

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Wilibald Gurlitt , Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht (ed.): Riemann Music Lexicon (subject part) . B. Schott's Sons, Mainz 1967, p. 654 .
  2. ^ Arnold Jacobshagen : "Musiktheater" (PDF) German Music Information Center
  3. Summary see: Wolfgang Osthoff: Monteverdi: L'incoronazione di Poppea . In: Carl Dahlhaus (Ed.): Piper's Enzyklopädie des Musiktheater . Volume 4. Munich 1991, pp. 253-259.
  4. ^ Johannes Jansen: Crash course opera . P. 127, "Departure into Modernity".
  5. Statistics 2017/18. Operabase ; accessed on June 14, 2018
  6. Roswitha Frey: “Reality has caught up with us” . Badische Zeitung , March 18, 2016
  7. The Ghosts of Versailles. Retrieved July 7, 2019 .
  8. ^ Kurt Pahlen : The new opera lexicon. Seehamer, Weyarn 2000, ISBN 3-934058-58-2 , p. 9.