Last time we discussed the origins of opera and early opera composers. Now, let’s step a bit forward in time to the 18th century and discuss various types of opera that emerged on the musical scene.
One type of opera, known as opera seria, extended across borders and was found in quite a few European nations. Its name means “serious opera” and is just that: an opera in three acts, alternating between arias and recitatives and based on a serious, often historical, subject. One famous librettist of the time named Pietro Metastasio, was known for using two sets of lovers as the main characters in his various dramas.
Unlike earlier operas in which arias conveyed one specific mood, operas of this period expressed multiple emotions. One 18th-century opera seria composer, Johann Adolf Hasse, was married to star soprano Faustina Bordoni who held lead roles in many of his operas. Hasse was known to compose his arias for Faustina’s voice, accentuating her strengths. Faustina was known to add embellishments throughout the arias to “show off” her virtuosity.
One of Hasse’s operas, Cleofide, is a great example of opera seria from this period. Note the caricature of Faustina in the video!