Friday, June 17, 2005


Continued from Classic Italians

Forgive me if you've completely lost the thread. This all started with worrying over why Italian opera was the glory of the Baroque and its composers some of the most famous people of their era, while we have almost completely forgotten their music and often even their names. Then I went through a brief summary of who they were.

In the seventeenth century commercially viable opera existed only in Venice. Composers found operatic success in Venice or they took regular court or church jobs to make a living, usually in other cities. They might tour with operas created for Venice, but Venice was the center of creativity.

Opera in that era fell into two categories: the kind with small casts and no chorus intended for Venice, and large scale celebration operas intended for special occasions in various courts around Europe. Venetian operas were neither entirely comic nor entirely serious.

Of all the operas written for Venice The Rough Guide lists only:
Monteverdi's Il ritorno de Ulisse in Patria
Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea
Cavalli's Giasone
Vivaldi's Orlando

Then beginning with Allesandro Scarlatti an alternate commercial venue started up in Naples, which was at that time the largest city in Italy. The Neapolitans liked a kind of lower class comic opera in Neapolitan dialect that didn't integrate with the usual content of serious opera. This led naturally to the division into opera seria and opera buffa. What we know primarily as Handelian opera is Neapolitan opera seria. Handel was far too serious for buffa, but the Italians wrote in both styles.

This is the opera we know as Baroque and classical opera with secco recitatives, da capo arias, the whole thing.

The Rough Guide discusses:
Paisiello's Il barbiere di Siviglia
Cimarosa's Il matrimonio segreto
Salieri's Les Danaides
Salieri's Falstaff
Three are opera buffa and the other is in French.

When the Italians traveled to foreign cities like Hanover, Vienna and Dresden, they worked for royal patrons and presented festival operas whose scores are often carefully preserved in the Denkmaler Deutsche Tonkunst. If they were commercially successful and stayed in Venice or Naples, their works were largely ignored by succeeding generations. Each year new works were composed and the old ones forgotten. Like modern popular music styles changed rapidly, and no one looked back.

They followed the rules of popular music, enjoyed a burst of popularity and flamed out into obscurity. It was their popularity, perhaps even the concept of popularity that doomed them.

I'm happy to see my idea verified.


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