Opera, in its conventional form, had first appeared in 1597 in Italy and later expanded toward Germany, France and England (“Encyclopedia” 491). Opera began just three years before the first years of what we now consider to be the Baroque Period (1600-1750 AD) in music. The word “baroque” according to Webster’s Dictionary means: “a jeweler’s trade term for ill-shaped pearls.” This term is in reference to general sound of the music that was composed within this era. Although it had intellectually surpassed that of the prior generations it still did not have the lush and extravagant harmonies of the Classical period. Specifically the German Baroque opera is of great importance.
It is often thought that opera is the combination of all the arts into one: music, drama, and visual art. Despite this belief opera in itself is dominated by music. The drama is primarily sung and accompanied by an orchestra, with visual art not even being present in certain instances. Tension and relief itself can be and is created through use of chords, progressions, tempo, dynamics, etc.
The first ever German Opera was Dafne, written by Heinrich Schutz in 1627 (“Encyclopedia“ 629). It was composed thirty years after the first Italian opera was written. In Greek Mythology, Dafne is the daughter of Peneus (a river god). She is followed indefinitely by Apollo (the sun god) and saved only when her mother, Gaea, turns her into a laurel tree (158). Ironically, it was based upon that very same libretto by Rinuccini that had been translated into German. Making it both the first Italian and German opera. Schutz had composed the music in this opera for the marriage of the daughter of Saxon Elector to the Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt (Oxford 303; “Encyclopedia” 629).
Unfortunately, in the forty-four years following there hadn‘t been a “real“ opera produced. There had been, however, many librettos that were set to music. Historians consider these German librettos to be nothing more than amateur material, including a libretto set entirely to music: Sigmund Theophil Staden’s Seelewig that was written in 1644 (Oxford 303, 304).
The next and second German opera to be composed was in likeness to Schutz’s. It shared the same title; however, it was set to a different libretto written by Opitz in 1627. This version was longer than the original one that Schutz used. This Dafne was composed by Giovanni Andrea Bontempi and Marco Gioseppe Peranda in 1671. The song style within this opera seems to reflect upon the style of Monteverdi than that of typical German characteristics. It is unclear whether either intellectually knew Monteverdi but it is certain that his style had a profound influence upon these two gentlemen. Not more than two years later both Bontempi and Peranda wrote another opera called Jupiter and Jo. Little is known of the music for this opera, for only the libretto remains (Oxford 304).
Alle, John Gage, Ed. Webster’s Dictionary. Owings Mills: The Literary Press. 1997.
Ewen, David. The New Encyclopedia of the Opera. New York: Hill and Wang. 1971.
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Hogwood, Chistopher. Handel. Great Britain: The Pitman Press. 1984
Oxford University Press. Opera and Curch Music 1630-1750. The New Oxford History of Music Ser. 5. New York: Lewis & Fortune, 1975.
Weisstein, Ulrich, ed. The Essence of Opera. London: The Free Press of Glencoe. 1964.