Italian Opera Fest
Opera had its beginnings in 16th century Florence, a city celebrated as the birthplace of the Renaissance.
The earliest known opera is Dafne was written by Jacopo Peri in 1597, who recreated a form of Greek tragedy. He collaborated with poet Ottavio Rinuccini to write the lyrics and create the trend of composers and lyricists partnering to produce opera and eventually musical theatre. Claudio Monteverdi was integral in moving the art form forward from the Renaissance into the Baroque era with his first opera, The Fable of Orpheus. Composed in 1613, it was the first incorporation orchestra with opera, not to mention luxurious costumes, sets, and a more dramatic vocal style.
As the art form grew in popularity, Italian opera was the dominate style and language used well into the times of Handel, Gluck, and Mozart. Through the mid-1700’s Opera Seria (serious opera) was the rule of the day which featured simple style, classical (Greek and Roman) themes, ideals and values. Around that time Opera buffa (comedic opera) began to appear and was played more to local towns and peoples. Opera buffa featured small casts and orchestras, the local language, plays on words, action, and humor. It was the first time that audiences, even those with different dialects within Italy, could hear opera in their own language albeit more tongue and cheek or farcical including the widely popular Commedia dell’arte.
Composers like Mozart, Rossini, Puccini, and Verdi all greatly advanced the opera in their respective time, composing some of the most popular operas that live on to today. Operas like The Magic Flute, Così Fan Tutte, Don Giovanni, The Barber of Seville, Othello, and Madame Butterfly are all still widely performed. Opera and its composers have greatly impacted and grown the orchestra repertoire both in their operatic works and through sacred and instrumental pieces outside of the genre. To illustrate, the WSO performed Puccini’s I Crisantemi for strings during our 49th season.
Although many people think of opera from the standpoint of singers, sets, costumes, and perhaps some Viking horns, the orchestra plays an equally important role to those on stage. They all exist in a codependent state, relying as much on the orchestra to fill out beautiful melodies as the opera diva is belting out a lovely note high up in the stratosphere. Opera requires musicians to approach the music in a different sense than a traditional symphonic concert. It requires both endurance and focus. Although mostly unseen by the audience, the orchestra adds to the storyline while heightening the mood and feel of a scene.
Tonight, we feature our WSO Chamber Singers, including members of the Westmoreland Choral Society, local universities, and members of the Pittsburgh Opera. We will explore several beautiful opera choruses, arias, and solos as we conclude our 51st season.