home Recent Events special Events blog


The Origins of Opera and Opera Singers

13th Feb 2011

We thought it would be useful to give you a short history of opera’s origins. It’s incredible that an art form that began in the late 16th century is still flourishing today and has managed to reach audiences in such a variety of ways from the Rugby Six Nations opening ceremonies to advertisements that we watch every day on television.
So what does the word opera mean? The word opera literally means “work” in Italian and is a shortened form of the Italian “opera in musica”, that is, “work in music”. Opera began in the city of Florence during the Renaissance period of the late 1500’s. Opera first started out as music added to old Greek plays and eventually singing was added. It was considered a very luxurious art form, and still is today, as it involves the co-operation of a large number of experts from the librettist and composer through to the conductor, the singers, the orchestra, the stage designers, costume designers, managers, technicians etc.
Opera was, in many ways, the pop music of its day, with arias the hit songs. Its popularity spread across Europe like wildfire, and soon cities had purpose-built opera houses. The first of these opera houses was the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice which opened in 1637. The theatre took its name from the neighbourhood where it was located, the parish of San Cassiano near the Rialto Bridge. For many years opera was viewed as an Italian form, which led to composers to write their operas principally in Italian.
The main stars of opera were not the great sopranos and tenors of later years but the castratos.  Castrati singers were the Hollywood celebrities of their day and in great demand both on and off the stage. A castrato was a man with a singing voice equivalent to that of a soprano. This was produced either by castration of the singer before puberty or because of an endrocrinological condition which meant the singer never reached sexual maturity. Fortunately, the practice of castration for this purpose diminished greatly in the late 1700’s and was made illegal in Italy in 1870!
Opera has survived wars, plagues, depressions, collapsing monarchies to expand beyond all geographic and cultural boundaries and remains one of the most exciting and creative of all the performing arts.  It is our mission at Opera Bespoke to bring this magical art form out of the opera houses and to create elegant and stylish productions to suit any occasion from Opera Galas to surprise Singing Waiters.