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Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theatre. Such a "work" (the literal translation of the Italian word "opera") is typically a collaboration between a composer and a librettist and incorporates a number of the performing arts, such as acting, scenery, costume, and sometimes dance or ballet. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.

Opera is a key part of the Western classical music tradition. Originally understood as an entirely sung piece, in contrast to a play with songs, opera has come to include numerous genres, including some that include spoken dialogue such as musical theatre, Singspiel and Opéra comique. In traditional number opera, singers employ two styles of singing: recitative, a speech-inflected style, and self-contained arias. The 19th century saw the rise of the continuous music drama.

Opera originated in Italy at the end of the 16th century (with Jacopo Peri's mostly lost Dafne, produced in Florence in 1598) especially from works by Claudio Monteverdi, notably L'Orfeo, and soon spread through the rest of Europe: Heinrich Schütz in Germany, Jean-Baptiste Lully in France, and Henry Purcell in England all helped to establish their national traditions in the 17th century. In the 18th century, Italian opera continued to dominate most of Europe (except France), attracting foreign composers such as George Frideric Handel. Opera seria was the most prestigious form of Italian opera, until Christoph Willibald Gluck reacted against its artificiality with his "reform" operas in the 1760s. The most renowned figure of late 18th-century opera is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who began with opera seria but is most famous for his Italian comic operas, especially The Marriage of Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro), Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte, as well as Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio), and The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte), landmarks in the German tradition.

The first third of the 19th century saw the high point of the bel canto style, with Gioachino Rossini, Gaetano Donizetti and Vincenzo Bellini all creating signature works of that style. It also saw the advent of Grand Opera typified by the works of Daniel Auber and Giacomo Meyerbeer. The mid-to-late 19th century was a golden age of opera, led and dominated by Giuseppe Verdi in Italy and Richard Wagner in Germany. The popularity of opera continued through the verismo era in Italy and contemporary French opera through to Giacomo Puccini and Richard Strauss in the early 20th century. During the 19th century, parallel operatic traditions emerged in central and eastern Europe, particularly in Russia and Bohemia. The 20th century saw many experiments with modern styles, such as atonality and serialism (Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg), Neoclassicism (Igor Stravinsky), and Minimalism (Philip Glass and John Adams). With the rise of recording technology, singers such as Enrico Caruso and Maria Callas became known to much wider audiences that went beyond the circle of opera fans. Since the invention of radio and television, operas were also performed on (and written for) these media. Beginning in 2006, a number of major opera houses began to present live high-definition video transmissions of their performances in cinemas all over the world. Since 2009, complete performances can be downloaded and are live streamed.

Opera Media

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Opera..Triumphi, Soneti, & Canzone..

Opera..Triumphi, Soneti, & Canzone..

Francesco Petrarca (Italian, Arezzo, Tuscany 1304–1374 Arquà)

[Page in Opera, quae Quidem extant, omnia; with mathematical diagram keyed to Greek text]

[Page in Opera, quae Quidem extant, omnia; with mathematical diagram k...

Illus. and text in: Opera, quae quidem extant / Archimedes. Basileae : I. Heruagius, 1544. Published in: The tradition of science / Leonard C. Bruno. Washington, D.C. : Library of Congress, 1987, p. 256.

[Title page of Opera quae ad nos extant omnia, with Froben family device of caduceus clasped by two hands]

[Title page of Opera quae ad nos extant omnia, with Froben family devi...

Title page in: Opera quae ad nos extant omnia / Hippocrates. Basileae : [Per H. Forbenium et N. Episcopi]. 1546. Published in: The tradition of science / Leonard C. Bruno. Washington, D.C. : Library of Congress... more

Il Monte. Opera Nova di Recami

Il Monte. Opera Nova di Recami

Designed by Giovanni Antonio Bindoni, published by Giovanni & Marchio Sessa, Venie, bound by Chambolle-Duru, French, 19th century.Title page with printer's mark, 21 pages of designs, last page contains floral d... more

Le Pompe: Opera Nova

Le Pompe: Opera Nova

Published by Giovanni Battista & Marchio Sessa, Venice. First edtion of the first pattern book for bobbin lace.Matio Pagano's mark on title page, 30 pages of designs. Giovanni Battista & Marchio Sessa , Venice

Opera di M. Bartolomeo Scappi, cuoco secreto di Papa Pio V

Opera di M. Bartolomeo Scappi, cuoco secreto di Papa Pio V

Written by Bartolomeo Scappi (Italian, active 16th century)

[Kitchen scene from Bartolomeo Scappi's Opera]

[Kitchen scene from Bartolomeo Scappi's Opera]

Illus. in: Opera di m. Bartolomeo Scappi. Con il discorso funerale che fu fatto nelle essequie di papa Paulo III. [Venetia : M. Tramezzino, 1574?]. Reference copy may be in LOT 4638. This record contains unveri... more

Il ballarino di M. Fabritio Caroso da Sermoneta, diuiso in due trattati; nel primo de' quali si dimostra la diuersità de i nomi, che si danno à gli atti; & mouimenti, che interuengons ne i balli: & con molte regole si dichiara come debbano farsi. Nel secondo s'insegnano diuerse sorti di balli, & balletti sì all' vso d'Italia, come à quello di Francia, & Spagna. Ornato di molte figure. Et con l'intauolatura di liuto nella sonata di ciascun ballo, & il soprano della musica alla maggior parte di essi. Opera nuouamente mandata in luce ...

Il ballarino di M. Fabritio Caroso da Sermoneta, diuiso in due trattat...

This manual is one of the most important documents detailing late-Renaissance Italian court dance. Dancing master Fabritio Caroso (died 1605) describes fifty-four steps, provides rules for style and etiquette, ... more