History of Opera in Italy

Opera was born in Italy and France around the end of the 17th century. It was originally a popular entertainment show for the royal classes. However, Italy has a longer and richer opera culture. It is possible to trace the origins of opera back to the 16th century, when, inspired by the Renaissance, “intermezzi” began to be played. At the time, it was usual for Roman plays to be performed. However, they were not very amusing for the royal guests.

For this reason, the intermezzi took place between acts. In fact, the Italian word intermezzi translates into “intermediate.” They were short, vivid, colorful and most importantly, musical plays which included singing and dancing. Celebrities such as Isabella d’Este had a notorious preference for intermezzi rather than Roman plays. The oldest intermezzi preserved up to our days are the ones performed during a wedding in the court of Medici, in Florence in 1589.

By taking a walk on Florenceā€™s streets, considered as the birthplace of the Renaissance, one can begin to understand the artistic spirit that gave birth to operas at the end of the 16th century. During the next years, the popularity of intermezzi increased at a continuous rate. This preference allowed this kind of entertainment to show more colorful, big and complex scenarios needed to represent plays such as Dafne in 1597 by Jacopo Peri. Dafne is considered to be the first opera ever written, but, unfortunately, it is now lost. A few years later, in 1600, Jacopo Peri wrote another opera, Euridice. This is the first opera that survives up to our days. In 1607, one of the most famous operas of all time was written by Claudio Monteverdi: L’Orfeo, composed for the court of Mantua.

On the following years, the reputation of this kind of plays kept on growing. This allowed operas to break free from the royal spheres so they could start being played publicly. The city of Venice has proven to be an excellent place to organize publicly attended operas, especially during the Carnivale season in the 1630s. Francesco Cavalli, a close follower of Monteverdi, spread the opera genre throughout Italy. It is said that Cavalli, along with other enthusiasts, planted the seeds for the first public opera houses in Italy to come true. Thanks to ongoing restoration efforts, most of these places can still be visited today.

By the beginning of the 18th century, Opera seria held a distinctive style for Italy. Many stars arose during these years: castrati voices such as Farinelli and Senesino became famous in all Europe, as well as female sopranos such as Faustina Bordoni. When you visit Italy, there are three iconic buildings that you cannot miss:

Teatro Alla Scala
The most famous opera house in Milan, first opened in 1778 and re-opened many times since then. Teatro Alla Scala features a bar and museum.

Teatro La Fenice
Famous not only in Italy but in across Europe, Teatro La Fenice was first opened in 1792. Teatro La Fenice is located in San Marco Sestiere (Venice).

Teatro San Carlo
Teatro San Carlo was the first opera house in Italy. It opened its doors in 1737 and has witnessed some of the most famous operas around the world. It is located in Naples.

Newsletter Signup

Your Travel Specialist to Italy.

Hello Italy Tours provides personalized, high quality travel services at the best value.