The transition between 18th and 19th century in Opera

The transition between 18th and 19th century in Opera

Gioachino Rossini, the genius of comic opera, was born in 1792, the year of the first performance of Il Matrimonio Segreto. It is however in Rossini’s Opera Seria that we can better appreciate the changes in Opera in the transition between the 18th and 19th century.

In the 18th century opera was a “delightful entertainment” focused on virtuosi. The audience had interest neither in the protagonists or the story, as Opera Seria in particular had no connection whatsoever with the everyday life.

Opera and the French revolution

Opera, until then the favourite entertainment of aristocracy and educated classes, was going to change radically as a consequence of the French revolution. In the three decades of the rise and fall of Napoleon, opera social function changed completely and irrevocably.

William Sadler, The Battle of Waterloo, 1815

The drama enters the Opera

The 19th century music drama is no longer simply a fashionable entertainment. People from now on go to a live performance to intensely participate in passionate stories.

The public wants to suffer and vibrate with characters, to compare ideally his misfortunes and emotional experiences and actions and been inspired by noble and passionate stories.

The drama enters the opera: it’s the melodrama.

The end of the Italian opera supremacy over Europe

In the 18th century the dissemination of the Italian opera was almost a colonization: opera was exported from Italy as a merchandise, along with all the people to produce and perform it: singers, composers, poets, designers and stylists.

It could easily happen that musicians stayed abroad for years and didn’t learn a word in a foreign language as they lived within a community of Italians abroad. Opera was a sort of transnational musical empire that overcome political divisions and had Italian as its official language.

European countries start producing their own opera

Between 1700 and 1800 things start to change. Gluck taught particularly to the French and the Austrian, that they could “make” opera from themselves, instead of importing it from Italy.

From then on, Italian musicians going abroad have to deal with local musicians. They also must adapt their style to the taste of the country, compose on librettos written in a foreign language and, above all, prove to be truly superior to local composers.

Gaspare Spontini and Luigi Cherubini

Spontini and Cherubini, just as later Bellini and Donizetti, are emblematic of the end of Italian opera supremacy.

Both started their career in Italy but once abroad had to change their style. according to the musical tastes and culture of the country by which they were employed: France. In fact they both owe their dramatic and severe style from Gluck.

Napoleon’s old fashioned musical tastes

It is interesting to note that Napoleon found tedious and dull Cherubini’s heavy orchestration and Spontini’s dramatic declamation.

At the contrary he loved and felt nostalgic for Paisiello’s and Piccinni’s delightful melodies although it was him who contributed significantly to destroy the world in which that type of opera developed, lived and prospered.

About Sara Filippini

Opera music along with destination management and communication are my fields of expertise. Music and singing are my passion combined with travel and exploring the connection between places and their stories. Coming from Italy I am blessed with wealth of history and adventures to be explored from Sicily to the Alp's. The real dept of any story can be best felt from the place of its origin were the surroundings add to the sense of connection and true appreciation.


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