There is no exact date when opera began. Rather the art form was a product of musical evolution. It emerged from the various forms of classical music that was popular in the 1400s.
During the early 1500s, stage drama with music became popular in Europe. However the complexities of the stories grew. In the 1590s, some composers and musicians met in Florence to create a new musical form. The basic idea was to create a Greek style play with simple and clear music for the singer. The accompaniment would also be reduced.
The earliest play on record is that of Jacopo Peri’s Dafne. This took place in 1597. Despite some basic differences, it contained the elements found in the art form today. It can be said that when opera began it was with Dafne.
Spread Throughout Europe
The new musical form became popular. It became particularly widespread in England, Germany and France. In England it came into prominence during the rule of Oliver Cromwell. The first musical staged was the Siege of Rhodes and came out in 1656. In France the art form was intertwined with the ballet de cour.
The Baroque Era
During its early days the event was set exclusively for the royals and their entourage. In the mid 1600s the idea for holding shows for the public emerged in Venice. This helped increase the popularity of the art form. In Venice, Francesco Cavalli popularized the Baroque style.
It was a mixture of drama and comedy and came to be known as opera buffa. It was a different form compared to when opera began. It would lead to discussions as to what shape it should take up next.
Reform and Bel Canto
The excessive use of spectacle led to a demand for a return to the basics of the musical. Among those who wrote pieces in this simplified manner were Niccolo Jommeli and Christoph Gluck. Other popular composers to emerge were Handel and Vivaldi.
In the 19th century the Bel Canto style surfaced. The emphasis was based on the singing and highlighted the techniques of the vocalist. The most renowned composers of the time were the Italians. Among them were Pacini, Gioacchino Rossini and Gaetano Donizetti. In Germany the movement was spearheaded by Ludwig Spohr and Carl von Weber.
Verdi, Puccini and Wagner
After the Bel Canto, the operatic masterpieces of Guiseppe Verdi appeared. His works included Don Carlos, Rigoletto and Falstaff and showed how much progress was made since when opera began.
In Germany, the art found its greatest exponent in Richard Wagner. He believed that the story was as crucial as the music itself. His most famous work is the Ring of Nibelungs. It was first staged in 1878 and became a resounding success. It took Wagner nearly 20 years to write and lasts over 20 hours.
Another well known composer was Giacomo Puccini. He came into fore after Verdi’s death and produced many memorable compositions. Perhaps the most well know is Madame Butterfly, a story about a Japanese woman and an American sailor.
Since the time when opera began, it has gone through numerous changes. It will undoubtedly continue to do so, but it will remain an avenue for the composer to express feelings and how it affects people.