Early Opera 1597-1780
Opera is born as Italian philosophers and artists in Florence attempt to revive
the combination of poetry, music, and stage visuals that they believe characterized
the theater of ancient Greece. They did not have a name for this new art-form—putting
all the arts on stage at the same time—so they called it “work”; and the Italian word
for “work” is “Opera”. A new multi-media artform was born, rather like the birth of
the movies in our own day.
Opera soon spread from Florence to all of Italy and then to the court of Louis XIV
in France, as audiences thrilled to the magic of music and poetic drama against the
backdrop of beautiful stage-pictures.
The stories are drawn mostly from classical mythology and the history of ancient
Greece and Rome. And the poetic theme is almost always Eros—the Joy of Love possessed,
the Sorrow of Love lost, and the Glory of singing Love back. The most commonly told
of all the opera stories is that of Orpheus and Eurydice: Orpheus and Eurydice are in
love: she dies, and Orpheus descends into the underworld to sing her love back to life.
This kind of pattern—joy, sorrow, glory—is explored in thousands of operas composed
during this period.