There is a lot debate these days about which kind of music is "the best". Well, I can certainly tell you what isn't: rap. That poetic filth people consider to be music is nothing more than synthesized beats and "pimps bitchin' 'bout dem hoes". However, the topic of rap and me mercilessly trashing it is for another time. I come here today to bring a genre to light. A genre that has been around for many, many years: opera.
When the layperson things "opera", chances are they'll think of a fat woman in a horned helm, singing at levels that could choke a horse. While they may not be quite far from the truth in the sense that fat women do portray characters in horned helmets from time to time (soon to be explained), the full aspects of opera are, in every sense of the word, quite different.
However, to truly appreciate opera, it couldn't hurt to understand the opera history. Opera harkens back to the days of Greek theater, where, as evidence shows, on many occasions the roles were sung by actors, and a chorus also participated with some instruments. Sometime in the 1600's, a group of men decided to explore this ancient idea. The first documentation of an opera (though the name "opera" was not used until later) was "Eurydice". While not much is known about this particular opera, it is arguably the first of a multitude of operas. What is known about "Eurydice" is that it incorporated a small amount of instruments and several singers proceeding in some manner of plot. It was rudimentary opera at its best, but it paved the way for the more grandeur spectacles to come.
Fast forward a century or so. Opera had begun to slump a bit, as the true artistry behind it seemed to sag in the way of "success over art". The singer became more important than the actual music, and it was around this time that the phrase "song-opera", nothing more than a collection of airs and recitatives around a feeble plot, came into saying. Something must be done, the music masters of the day thought.
Enter Chris Gluck. Mainly a French opera composer, he paved the way for reform, with his aptly named "reform operas". Such operas included "Alceste", "Orfeo", and "Iphigenie en Tauride" (his greatest work), to name a few. His reforms, as almost a prelude to the Wagnerian reforms that would rattle the cages of every opera house in the world, spoke of the music serving as a way to express the poetry of the singing, and to change the ways of simple arias and melodies that cropped up constantly.
The world entered the nineteenth-century, and Richard Wagner was born. It was he that would change the face of opera forever with his revolutionary "musik-dramas". Combining stagecraft, music and poetry, his operas are widely considered to be among the greatest works of art. At the time, the reforms of Gluck were not having the effect they should have had. Enter Wagner. In his theoretical paper "Oper und Drama", he specified that the idea of the aria be abolished, so that the focus is not just on the singer. He also made spectacular use of the "leading motive", a musical idea that would be repeated in a different way to orchestrate how the idea is to be interpreted. Representing places, moods, people or ideals, the leitmotif served as the backbone to Wagner's operas.
As the Romantic period ended, and music entered a more contemporary stage, the composition of opera slowed. With the rising of musical theater, the glory days of opera were no more. It is because of this that the new generations of people do not find opera appealing. Even some classical lovers find opera too confusing to want to listen to. However, I urge you, classical lover or not, to invest at least some time in this wonderful art form.
Hopefully in the next few days, I'll be able to give a preview on various operas and types of opera I've come into contact. I do hope you give them a try.