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Operas and Musicals
The first surviving stage work comes from Italy in the year 1600 with Jacopo Peri's Euridice. The true star of opera from the 1600s, though, is Claudio Monteverdi. His first opera was L'Orfeo, also about the Orpheus and Euridice story. The Italians of the time, in the middle of the Renaissance, were fascinated with Ancient Greece and had wanted to replicate what they thought was the Ancient Greek melodrama, complete with chorus. And thus composers and performers created opera. The initial style was with recitatives, which was essentially speech in song. Over time, the beauty of the music and the singing took precedence and arias became popular. From the mid-1600s through about the mid-1800s, most operatic compositions were a mix of recitatives and arias. All of Mozart's operas were filled with a mix of recitatives and arias. In the Romantic era, as the music itself transformed into storytelling, the orchestra and its contribution rose to higher prominence. Richard Wagner revolutionized operatic composing. There are no arias in his operas. The music is considered through-composition wherein the music goes from one theme to another without stoppage. Arias, on the other hand, were considered songs that could be sung separately outside the opera itself. The Italian composers of the late 1700s and the 1800s created bel canto, or beautiful singing, in which the arias, particularly for the sopranos, became extraordinary and complex. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Italian opera used verismo, or true or real, in which the singing was meant to be more like the way people actually talked, so the story would flow better than these breaks for complex arias. 20th and 21st century opera is filled with more atonality and spectralism, such as from Thomas Ades and Kaija Saariaho. For more, you can read here, a brief history of opera.
Musical theater slowly morphed out of the same kind of genre as opera. However, its success started with The Beggar's Opera, which was a spoof on the heady operas of the 18th century. Musicals were a mix of music, spoken word, and dance on stage. It became extremely popular with Gilbert and Sullivan in the late 19th century in England, and in the 20th century in America with many composers, including the Gershwin brothers, Ira and George. The first musical in America is probably The Black Crook, from the 1860s. Musicals continued their successes throughout the 20th century with such big names as Rodgers and Hammerstein, Frederick Loewe, Kander and Ebb, Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and most recently Lin Manuel Miranda. Musical theater allows for quite a diverse range of composition, from classical to hip hop.
Highly Worthy Examples for Your Listening and Research Pleasures
Claudio Montiverdi: L'Orfeo - the full opera from 1607.
Georg Friedrich Handel: Giulio Cesare - a short scene from Handel's large opera about Caesar.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni - full opera from 1780s. This is a unique take on the opera, as well.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro - Mozart's comedy of errors opera.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The Magic Flute - Mozart's lighthearted opera, including the Queen of the Night aria at about 1 hour 26 minutes into the performance.
Gioachino Rossini: Guglielmo Tell - the full opera from Rossini.
Carl Maria von Weber: Der Freischutz - full opera from 1820s. This opera was highly influential on Wagner.
Richard Wagner: Tristan Und Isolde - the full opera from the 1860s, famous for many things, including the "Tristan chord."
Richard Wagner: Gotterdammerung - full opera from the 1870s.
Modest Mussorgsky: Boris Godunov - Russian opera from the 1870s.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin - Russian opera from the 1870s.
Giuseppe Verdi: Aida - Verdi's famous Aida opera.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Mlada - one of many of Rimsky-Korsakov's operas.
Richard Strauss: Salome - full opera from the early 1900s. Strauss straddles the atonal line with this opera.
Giacomo Puccini: Tosca - full opera from the 1920s.
Alban Berg: Wozzeck - a successful atonal opera from the 1920s.
Claude Debussy: Pelleas et Melisande - Debussy's only opera, very successful.
Bela Bartok: Bluebeard's Castle - Bartok's only opera, and interestingly, the story comes from the same "world" as Debussy's Pelleas.
Igor Stravinsky: The Rake's Progress - after moving to America, Stravinsky wrote this opera in English.
Richard Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier - Strauss's lighthearted opera.
Leoš Janáček: The Cunning Little Vixen - from the early 20th century.
George Gershwin: Porgy and Bess - full jazz opera.
Leonard Bernstein: Trouble in Tahiti - his one act opera mixing jazz with opera.
Philip Glass: Einstein on the Beach - I'm not a fan at all of this opera, but it was influential and made an impact, and some people like it.
Benjamin Britten: Peter Grimes - very successful opera from Britain in the late 1960s.
Giancarlo Menotti: Amahl and the Night Visitors - the first opera written specifically for the television.
John Adams: Nixon in China - composed in 1987.
Andre Previn: A Streetcar Named Desire - from the 1990s based on Tennessee Williams' play.
Kaija Saariaho: L'amour de loin - Saariaho's spectral opera from 2000.
John Adams: Doctor Atomic - one scene from 2005's opera.
Thomas Ades: The Tempest - a scene from his opera.
George Benjamin: Written on Skin - composed in 2012.
Nkeiru Okoye: Harriet Tubman - composed in 2014.
Nico Muhly: Marnie - a scene from Muhly's opera from 2018.
Nico Muhly: The Glitch - premiered in February 2021.
Terence Blanchard: Fire Shut Up in My Bones - brand new opera, premiered at the Met Opera in September 2021.
Arthur Sullivan: Pirates of Penzance - the song, I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General. Gilbert and Sullivan were very popular and gave rise to the musical as we know it today.
Lin Manuel Miranda: Hamilton - Miranda succeeded beyond measure with this musical, mixing hip hop with classical forms. This is from the Tony Awards.
Claude Michel Schonberg: Les Miserables - this is a high school production of Schonberg's famous Les Mis.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: The Phantom of the Opera - Webber's ultra successful musical.
Stephen Schwartz: Wicked - popular musical as a prequel to the Wizard of Oz.
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul: Dear Evan Hansen - a scene from this popular musical.
Leonard Bernstein: West Side Story - the song "America" from the film version.
Richard Rodgers: The Sound of Music - this is Do Re Mi from the movie version.
Fred Ebb: Chicago - the Cell Block Tango from the film version.
Fred Ebb: Caberet - tough to pick one scene, but the beginning Willkommen should suffice well to grasp the frenetic energy of this musical.
Jerry Bock: Fiddler on the Roof - the famous "If I Were A Rich Man" from the film version.
Richard Sherman: Mary Poppins - the famous Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious song from the film version.
Nacio Herb Brown: Singing in the Rain - the title piece from the film version.
Stephen Sondheim: Into the Woods - stage performance of this 1980s musical.
Meredith Wilson: The Music Man - the famous You've Got Trouble piece from the film.
Jonathan Larson: Rent - full stage performance.
Stephen Sondheim: Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street - full stage production. This is Sondheim's most operatic musical, straddling the line between musical and opera.
Benny Andersson: Mamma Mia - here is the song Honey Honey from the film version.
Anais Mitchell: Hadestown - the cast singing some of the songs for NPR. This list began with a story from Orpheus and Euridice, and now ends with a story about Orpheus and Euridice. :)