Like cinema, opera is a collaborative art, requiring the skills of poets, composers, choreographers, set and costume designers, singers, musicians, and assorted stage technicians. However, unlike film, opera at first was neither a popular entertainment, nor was it intended to be. Because of its luxuriousness and expensive production requirements, initially the genre needed a rich patron, even a prince, to support it. Little wonder then that opera—often considered the most aristocratic of the arts—had its beginnings in the Renaissance courts of Italy in the 1580’s. Tragedies and comedies, and related dramatic forms, had been featured at the royal courts of Florence and Mantua in northern Italy throughout the sixteenth century. Many of these plays were based on or influenced by Roman and especially Greek models. The revitalized interest in Greek culture, in fact, played a key role in the Renaissance spirit of inquiry and experimentation in the arts.
These plays were often accompanied by music, an attempt by the dramatists and their fellow musicians to emulate what they believed to be an integral part of the classical dramas of the ancient Greeks. Greek drama provided numerous uses of the chorus, for example, and the Renaissance playwrights and musicians sought to produce appropriate music for their own “modern” versions of these plays.
There were some important precursors to these early musical dramas, direct ancestors in the evolution of the full-fledged opera. Most important was the intermedio , a theatrical entertainment intended to keep the audience amused between the acts of the play. The intermedio was often more inventive, more spectacular, than the play it was intended to complement. This mixture of song, music, and dance was generally accompanied by elaborate stage effects, often intended to serve as political allegories honoring the prince or patron...
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