[MUSIC] As we said, opera originated in Italy around 1600. Actually it's surprising that it took that long. China and Japan had had opera ever since the 13th century. In the West, again in Italy, opera rose as a new genre. Ironically by trying to re-create an old one, ancient Greek drama, Greek tragedy. In a very real sense, the creation of this genre, opera, was not something new. But a continuation of an older humanist agendum, the need to recapture, recreate the power of ancient Greek music. And indeed the very subjects, the plots of these early operas were based on those of ancient Greek drama or mythology or Roman history. But what is opera? Well of course a drama, a play that is sung. That's an odd thing to do, to sing a play. Normal human discourse is usually not sung. We don't go around saying you took my parking place, I'm very angry at you. But in opera, we do. Why? Because with opera, the assumption is that the drama is powerful and that the music is powerful. And if you could put the two together, you'd have something very powerful. Opera, in fact, is greater than the sum of its parts. In some ways, opera is like a traditional Broadway show. You have a sung play that is divided into acts, usually two or three. You have a book, in other words the text, which is opera we call the libretto, and you have the lyrics, the poetic part of the libretto. And you have the musical score that adds emotional intensity to the drama. What happens first? Well, an opera usually begins with an overture, an instrumental piece that opens the opera. It used to be that the overture was played to call people to attention. To tell them hey, pay attention. Go take your seats. Only later was it played after the people were seated and people listened to the overture. Let's see how this works. To do so we go to northern Italy, the birth place of opera. Even today about three quarters of the operas that are performed in opera houses around thee world have been written to an Italian text, perhaps, in part, because of the regularly spaced vowels in the Italian language. Anyway, here's a map of the city-states of Northern Italy around 1600. And you can see there in red Florence, Mantua and Venice. The first opera of lasting importance was composed here in Mantua by Claudio Monteverdi. Now, Monteverdi's first opera was entitled Orfeo. And he wrote it, again, in Mantua in 1607. Orfeo, or Orpheus, was an appropriate subject because the story is drawn from classical Greek mythology. What's the story about? Well, it tells the tale of Orfeo, a half-god, half-man who has married a human, Eurydice, but she's been killed by a snake, and carried off to Hades, the Greek vision of hell. It's Orfeo's job to descent into Hades and rescue her. So, this, in a sense, is a rescue drama. Here on the right, we see the scene. Down below, we've got the River Styx, Charon, the ferryman on the left and or fail with his lyre to which he sings on the right, and moribund Eurydice. Well, let's watch a video now of the first fully formed opera starting with the overture. The production here is by the Spanish early music conductor Horace who has done his best to recreate the opera as close to Monteverdi's original intentions as possible. Here's the overture. [MUSIC] Okay I'm gong to pause it here just for a second. And you can see on the screen there some of these baroque instruments. We see a harp in the orchestra. Normally we don't see that. We see some violins. We see some strange looking woodwind instruments that we'll talk about a little later on. And we see that giant lute-like thing over there, to the right center, a theorbo. So this is Monteverdi's early baroque orchestra. All right. Let's go on and hear the rest of our overture to Orfeo. [MUSIC] As to the opera itself, well, let's first have an explanation of the style of singing calling monody. Expressive one line monody solo singing accompanied by a small ensemble. Eventually, early monody would bifurcate into two contrasting modes of delivery, recitative and aria. What the difference between a recitative and an aria? Well recitative generally told what was going on, what's happening, and aria reflected what the protagonist, the singer, felt about what was happening. You can find almost all of Monteverdi's Orfeo on YouTube. But let's cut to the high point. Let's go to the climactic aria in which Orfeo tries to convince Charon to allow him to cross the river Styx and into Hades. But first, let's review the nature of this particular aria by way of a slide. As you can see here, the notes of the music pertain to the aria Posente Spirto, powerful spirit. And this is an aria in which we have passionate, expansive, and tuneful expressions of the feelings and motions of Orfeo. It's accompanied by the full orchestra and by a basso continuo, which we'll talk about a little bit later on. It's a self-contained unit, both textually and musically, so we've got a poem here set to music which has its own meter and rhyme. And note the vocal embellishments to convey emotion. Orfeo wants to persuade us, and he does so by means of ornamentation. Odd sorts of ornamentation, where he might sing, [MUSIC]. Sounds strange, sounds almost like a goat, but that is where Orfeo is trying to be his most persuasive. All right. Let's turn to the video now. And I might talk a bit as we go. >> [FOREIGN] >> Powerful spirit. [MUSIC] It is referring to the God Charon, the guardian of Hades, or Hell. [MUSIC] So the music here is actually coming from the pit. Those on stage are simply holding symbols of the music. Indeed, Orfeo is holding a symbol of the music, the lyre. [MUSIC] And the ornaments, or imitation that you just heard again, are attempts on Orfeo's part to persuade Charon to allow him to cross into Hades and rescue Eurydice. Music is the agent of the river. This is just a taste of Monteverdi's Orfeo, and you can watch all of these scenes in more than one production on YouTube, and compare them. But now we're going to move on from early 17th century opera to late 17th century opera. And we'll see how monody has progressively split further into these two distinctly different styles, recitative and aria. For this, we'll go to England, specifically London, and to an opera by Henry Purcell, Dido and Aeneas.