Originating from the Latin, ‘opus,’ meaning ‘work’ opera is an old, classical music tradition involving work in the form of performing arts like dancing, solos, or choral singing and acting, etc. Opera is the performance of a dramatic work including a musical score, orchestra, musical ensemble, costumes, acting, and theatrical settings. Opera is typically performed in a building made for that purpose called the ‘Opera House.’ The earliest opera Dafne was written by Jacopo Peri in Florence in the year 1597. There are many types of opera like the grand opera, opera buffa which is a comic opera, opera comique which, contrary to what it sounds like, is not a comic opera. Singspiel, with the touch of a magical element in it, is like Mozart’s Magic Flute. An operetta, which is a short opera and soap opera, which in the beginning was associated with soap commercials of companies like Levers, Proctor & Gamble and Colgate, etc. The grand opera was more set to music. Singing or voice alone is not enough for an opera singer nor is the exclusive capability of acting. Opera is, in fact, a multidisciplinary and an amalgamated performance of singing and acting requiring energy, stamina, agility, an aesthetic sense, and even the choral performance as in the Greek drama.
1. Jacopo Peri
Jacopo Peri was an Italian singer and composer often considered the inventor of opera. He was born in Rome on August 20, 1561 and died on August 12, 1633. He performed during the era between the Renaissance and the Baroque Eras. The word ‘baroque’ is derived from the Portuguese ‘barraco’ meaning ‘misshaped pearl’ to express the negative feelings about the excessively ornate music prevalent in that time. Peri studied in Florence. In 1579, Jacopo Peri wrote the first opera Dafne, and in 1600 he wrote Euridice, the first opera to survive till today. Euridice was performed for the first time on October 6, 1600 and though rarely performed now is still an historical heritage. In 1590 he was associated with Jacopo Corsi, the most influential musician of the time in Florence. Both considered the contemporary music lower in standard to that of the ancient Greek tragedy and tried to upgrade it. Peri’s own music was considered a bit too old by the time of his death, but he influenced many artists of the future.
2. Luciano Pavarotti
Luciano Pavarotti was born on October 12, 1935 and expired on September 6, 2007. He had the best, commercial, successful male singing voice. He recorded many complete operas and made himself one of the best in his class. He was one of the three tenors comprising the Spanish Singers: Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras, and himself. The trio operated under the name ‘The Three Tenors’ and debuted on the eve of the 1990 FIFA World Cup Final on
July 7, 1990 with the performance Baths of Caracalla in Rome, Italy.
3. Jean-Baptiste de Lully
Jean-Baptiste de Lully was born to a working class miller in Florence, Italy on November 28, 1632 and died on March 22, 1687. He was only slightly educated and learned to play guitar from a Florentine friar. He also learned to play violin and to dance. Roger de Lorraine, son of Charles, Duke of Guise, discovered his talent and brought him to France where he started serving Mademoiselle de Montpensier as a dishwasher and Italian language teacher. In 1652 he came into the service of Louis XVI as a dancer and pleased the king by the music he composed for Ballet de la Nuit. The king appointed him as the composer of the instrumental music to the king. Lully composed numerous ballets for the king in which the king himself danced with Lully. Backed by the king he bought the privilege for opera from Pierre Perrin giving him total control over music in France till his death.
4. Justino Diaz
Justino Diaz was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico on January 29, 1940, but Catano is his home town. He received his early education at Robinson Elementary School where he started participating in musical contests at the age of just eight years. He attended the University of Puerto Rico High School, Rio Piedras and took singing classes. He joined the choir of the University. As an opera singer, Justino Diaz debuted at the opera theater of New England. He was the winner of an annual contest at the Metropolitan Opera of New York. He made his Metropolitan debut in October, 1963. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Music, the Handel Medal from the City of New York, and National Medal of Culture from the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture.
5. George Frederic Handel
George Frederic Handel was born on February 23, 1685 in a family having no specific background of music. He received his early musical education in Halle, Hamburg, Italy and later settled in England. He started three opera companies to cater to the sensibilities of the English nobility. But after a physical suffering in 1737, he focused upon the middle class audience. His works; Water Music, Music for the Royal Works, and Messiah earned him lasting fame. In 30 years he composed 40 operas showing excellent human characterization.
6. Christopher Willibald Ritter Von Gluck
Christopher Willibald Von Gluck was born to Alexander Johannes and Maria Walburga in Erasbach, Bavaria on July 2, 1714 and died in Vienna on November 15, 1787. His father was a forester and wanted to make Gluck a forester too as he said, ‘My father was a head forester in Eisenberg in Bohemia, and he had brought me up to follow in his footsteps…My whole being became obsessed with music, and I left thoughts of a forester’s life far behind.’ He wrote eight operas for the Parisian stage and Iphigenie en Tauride is regarded his finest work. He is remembered as one of the most famous opera composers of the Classical Era.
7. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born to Leopold and Anna Maria Mozart in Salzburg, Austria on January 27, 1756 and died on December 5, 1791 at the young age of 35. He was an iconic composer of the classical period. He showed his extraordinary capabilities in musical performance in his early childhood. He started composing at the age of five and performed before the European royalty. At the age of 17 he was appointed as a court musician in Salzburg. In 1781 he visited Vienna, and it was there that he composed some of his finest symphonies, operas and concertos. Requuiem was his last unfinished work.
8. Wilhelm Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig, Germany on May 22, 1813 and died in Venice on February 13, 1883. He was a well-known composer and music theorist. He is best known for his operas which he called ‘music drama.’ His music is performed even today; Ride of the Valkyries, Die Walkure, and the Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin are typical examples. On account of his innovative ideas he was sometimes a controversial figure. Wagner’s first mature opera is Tristan und Isolde. His last opera the Ring Cycle was based on the Christian legend of the Holy Grail.
9. Senesino Francesco Bernardi
Senesino Francesco Bernardi was born on October 31, 1686 and died on November 27, 1758. He belonged to Siena which accounts for his stage name as ‘Senesino.’ He started with the cathedral choir and was castrated at the age of 13. Handel employed him as Primo Uomo or the lead male singer in his company, the Royal Academy of Music. Senesino joined the Opera of the Nobility and performed along with the soprano of high renown castrato Farinelli.
Carlo Maria Michelangelo Nocola Broschi, better known by his stage name Farinelli, was born to Salvatore and Caterina Barresa in Andria in a family of musicians on January 24, 1705 and died on September 16, 1782. His father was a composer and mastero di cappella of the city’s cathedral. The Duke of Andria took part in his baptism as in his words, ‘Ill Duca d.Andria mi Tenni al fonte: meaning ‘the Duke of Andria held me at the front.’ Unlike most of the castrati, he belonged to a prosperous family. After singing Corpora’s Eumene in Rome and playing the lead female role in Sofonisba, Farinelli became famous and immensely popular in Italy.
Famous people were always the men or women who tried to achieve fame, but they were mostly the people who dedicated all their capabilities with a laser sharp focused approach towards getting excellence in the art form they were associated with. A castrato opera singer derived the name literally from castration as they had to undergo it in order to preserve the elasticity and fineness of their voice and to prevent its becoming rough and hoarse through proactive prevention of the otherwise likely to happen changes in the voice due to hormonal disturbances. It was not unusual in Italy for boys to be castrated in view of their brighter futurity in opera singing.