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OPERA IN 19TH CENTURY

The word opera, which means "labour" in Italian, embodies the Baroque ideal of combining all the arts. Opera is a visual as well as an audible art form since music, drama, staging, and costume design are all essential components. Opera has historically been a trend-setter among the several arts it is constituted of. Opera has influenced the visual arts beyond the stage in areas like the design and decoration of

opera houses and the portraiture of singers and composers. Developments in architecture and painting have been reflected in the design of sets and costumes for specific performances on the operatic stage. The force of music, especially that composed for the many registers of the human singing voice, which is probably the artistic medium most adapted for the expression of emotion and the representation of character, is a characteristic specific to opera, though.

Opera's Rejuvenation in the Nineteenth Century
Conditions were favourable in the nineteenth century for both an expansion of the operatic audience and modifications to the genre itself. When choosing dramatic themes, bourgeois taste took precedence over court considerations, and composers, singers, and theatre producers competed for popular success. While the rise of nationalism spawned ferocious new operatic traditions in Germany and Russia, wide cultural movements like Romanticism, Orientalism, and Realism showed themselves in opera as well as in the visual arts in France and Italy. The irrational, the otherworldly, the exotic, and the historical all became popular topics for operatic expression during the Romantic movement of the early nineteenth century.

For instance, the Sir Walter Scott novel that served as the inspiration for Gaetano Donizetti's (1797-1848) Lucia di Lammermoor (1835) included themes like familial animosity, star-crossed love, and the tragic death of the heroine—which in this instance is preceded by a vocally demanding expression of madness. Similar issues were of utmost importance in the contemporaneous French opera, whose principal composer was Giacomo Meyerbeer, a German-born artist (1791–1864 ). His Robert le Diable (1831) was presented with expensive effects, stunning sets, choreographed dances, and enormous onstage groups, which are all characteristics of French grand opera. He also wrote several more successful works for the Paris Opéra . Another work in the genre, Faust (1859), by Charles Gounod, features the devil as a main role (1818–1893). Romantic themes persisted in opera long after authors and painters had moved on to other topics because nineteenth-century operas were frequently based on previous stage plays or literary works. For instance, Georges Bizet (1838–1875) based his opera Carmen (1875) on a Prosper Mérimée story from the early nineteenth century. Like its inspiration, the opera is replete with the Spanish flair that so appealed to French nineteenth-century audiences.

The artists' depictions of audience members, particularly women, watching from the privacy of their boxes suggest the restrictions placed on them as well as the appeal of opera's cathartic subject matter. The passion, violence, and impropriety that were so prominently featured in opera ran contrary to the ideals of contemporary bourgeois society. Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901), whose sense of drama enabled him to create magnificently expressive music for chorus, ensembles, solo voices, and the orchestra, is best known for his high tragedy-heavy operas. With Nabucco (1842), a powerful chorus expressing the yearning of captives for their motherland, he achieved his first major success.
 
In Rigoletto (1851), a court jester kills his own daughter unintentionally in retaliation; in Aida (1871), an Ethiopian princess falls in love with an Egyptian general who represents her country's enemy; and in Otello (1887), a Shakespearean adaptation, the hero's fatal jealousy leads to his downfall and the murder of his wife. The stories behind Verdi's operas are full of moral conflict and intense feelings. The unique situations that pepper Verdi's operas encourage set designers to delve into the entire spectrum of artistic history. On stage, the triumphal procession in Aida might suggest the splendour of pharaonic Egypt, and the diplomats' arrival in Otello may resemble a real-life rendition of a Venetian painting.

Richard Wagner (1813–1883), a contemporary of Verdi, approached opera in a very different way. He envisioned the Gesamtkunstwerk, or complete piece of art, in which the drama, staging, and music would come together to create a potent whole. Wagner achieved these goals by having complete creative control over his works, including authoring his own librettos, supervising set design, and creating the music. Wagner greatly enlarged the opera, taking it beyond any previous heights. H e wrote for a big orchestra and needed heroic voices to support it. He also addressed deep issues in his tragedies like the relationship between humanity and the divinity and redemption through love.
 
His most ambitious work, The Ring of the Nibelung (1853–74), is a grand drama in four acts, each longer than a typical Italian opera. The Rhine Maidens swimming in the water, the Valkyries riding in on winged horses, Siegfried's battle with the dragon Fafner, Brünhilde  dozing in the midst of magical flames, and the fall of Valhalla itself are just a few examples of the numerous opportunities for visual spectacle provided by the Germanic mythology-based story of the Ring. At Bayreuth in Bavaria, where he found the resources to construct a new theatre to his own specifications after growing frustrated with the physical constraints of modern theatres, Wagner broke with tradition by darkening the auditorium during performances and covering the orchestra pit in order to centre all attention on the stage.

Wagner's career in Germany came to a close just as a new opera house in Paris, planned by Charles Garnier and inaugurated in 1875, was being built. The Opéra's prominent location within the Baron Haussmann-designed system of boulevards during the Second Empire illustrates the social significance of opera at the period, and the elaborate ornamentation of the structure gives it the appearance of both a temple and a palace. Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, who created bronze figures bearing candelabra for the grand staircase, and Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, who provided a dynamic marble group for the front, were two of the artists involved in the Opéra's decoration

By the late nineteenth century, opera had come to be regarded as the pinnacle of the arts because it was capable of expressing the ultimate aspirations of both heroic individuals and entire peoples and nations. Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881), the renowned composer of the Russian opera Boris Godunov (1874), dramatises a turbulent time in Russian history while emphasising the chorus of plain people who swarm around the glitzy realm of the monarch. Russian opera was mostly created in the nineteenth century as a result of social unrest and the rise of nationalism, notwithstanding Catherine the Great's promotion of Italian opera and her own writing of several librettos. For operas like Pyotr Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) Eugene Onegin (1879), which was based, like Boris Godunov, on a piece by Aleksandr Pushkin, the vibrant Russian literature of the time provided abundant source material. The Gambler and War and Peace by Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953) were based on writings by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, respectively.

The great operatic composers composed comedic operas that are still performed and adored, despite the fact that they focused much of their emphasis on tragic, awesome, or horrific themes. There is a lot of humour throughout Mozart's operas, both musically and aesthetically. Despite his earlier comical operas being a complete failure, Verdi's career came to an end with an opera based on the antics of the cheery Shakespearean knight, Falstaff (1893). The Barber of Seville (1816), one of Gioacchino Rossini's comedy operas, is packed with songs that expertly portray frenetic intrigue in comical settings. Rossini (1792-1868) produced a number of comedic operas. Even Wagner produced a work of art, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1868), that had a happy conclusion and several humorous elements.

The action takes place in Nuremberg in the sixteenth century and is centred on a group of craftsman singers, most notably Hans Sachs, a shoemaker and poet. Albrecht Dürer, a painter who was probably alive when the characters were written, is named in the opera, and the topic of art that permeates the entire work applies primarily to music but may also be extended to other genres.

By-
Sriparna Mukherjee
Student
Amity University Kolkata


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