In anticipation of BLO's upcoming production, I started to think about Opera as a genre of music. Then I wondered if opera was always opera as we know it today or if evolved over time. I wonder when was the first opera was even written? With the help of my Rough Guide to Opera by Matthew Boyden, I began to uncover when, where and how the genre of opera began.
Opera began with discussions between Florentine poets and musicians; know as the Camerata, in the late 1500’s (approximately 1580). These great scholars were trying to create what they believed was the great musico-dramatic of the traditional Greek Myths. But in truth these scholars knew very little of the characters and dramatic music associated with the original Greek dramatics. Therefore, composers and librettist took inspiration from works such as Aristotle Poetics to begin crafting what they believe to be the musico-dramatic of the Greek Myths.
Jacopo Peri (1561-1633) was the first composer to fully develop this idea. It can be said that the first opera was his Dafne, with text written by Ottavio Rinuccini, which was first performed in 1594. Unfortunately, only pieces of Peri’s Dafne still survive today. From this, a new style of singing was created called recitative (sung speech), which we still here recitative in most of operas performed today.
- Kara Fleishaker, Boston University