Opera is often thought to have originated in Florence in the late 16th Century through the activities of a group of poets and musicians known as the CAMERATA. It was their mistaken belief that ancient Greek plays had music throughout and they therefore wrote plays with music called ‘drama per musica’ - drama through music - or ‘farola in musica’ - fable in music. These forms eventually became known as “opera”.
The first full-scale opera, “Orfeo”, was by Claudio Monteverdi. This ‘farola in musica’, in which all the possibilities of opera were foreshadowed, was written for private performances before aristocratic and courtly audiences. Opera did not retain a limited appeal for long. The first public opera house was opened in Venice in 1637. By the end of the 17th Century 10 more had been built and more than 350 different works staged.
Until the end of the 18th Century and the age of Mozart both private and public opera had a great deal in common. Works commissioned by the courts tended to be solidly ceremonial in tone, slow moving but with lavish sets. In short, opera served to enhance and reflect the glitter and etiquette of court life. This can be seen in the performance of Salieri’s opera “Axur” in the film “Amadeus”. This ‘Italian style’ opera was more concerned with the virtuosity of its star singers like Katerina Cavalieri, the opera singer in “Amadeus” as well as notions of classical art’, which resulted in countless variations of Greek and Roman myths. It had little to do with real people and psychological truths which are the heart of drama. Mozart was to change all this. His operas were on a human scale and were concerned with the feelings of real people. Writing to his father in 1773 he said: