Opera in the Romantic Era:
Romantic period, was a period of social upheavals. It was heightened by Napoleon Bonapartes French Revolution. This together with the bubonic plague, commonly termed as Black Death, caused the society to plunge into dire states.
Romantic opera was characterised by its expression of the beauty and terror of Nature, the power of evil and the supernatural, the purity of rural life and the concepts of liberation which every romantic is preoccupied with.
However, each composer had his own style and the diversity could not be classified into groups. The music usually reflected the social upheavals and the profound changes due to the revolution. Their themes incorporated the ideals of the post-aristocratic France. Operas focused on patriotism, and the released of the common from aristocratic oppression. By this time, people were quite free to express their desires, questions and amorous feeling. The arts circle was able to explore illicit affairs, forbidden love and other subjects which were previously frowned upon.
The composers composed passionate melodies that expressed extreme emotions of a character. Their lilting melodies were known to bring the audiences into a crying frenzy. They started writing operas based on novels by William Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott. Both of the authors wrote historical dramas and especially Sir Scott who wrote novels based on the medieval times. The settings of a typical Romantic opera is usually a composers own country but there came a time which the composers focused of writing exotic melodies to depict faraway land and foreign places which they had heard about but never went.
Though there were some composers who kept their operas tiny, most of them loved gigantic compositions that could dazzle the audiences. Famous examples were: Wagners the Ring which contains four individual operas linked up by a theme, Puccinis Turandot and etc.
The Age of Bel Canto
In the baroque and classical era, the style of virtuosic singing known as the Bel Canto ( literally beautiful singing) first started to flourished. It was sparked off by the new interest in the castrati singers who could sing demanding passages as if they were a piece of cake. However, this style of singing was nearly lost in the mid 19th century where composers and musicians thought was too frivolous and florid.
Bel Canto would be a lost art if Rossini never reintroduced it. He was superseded by Donizetti and Bellini. They wrote intensely passionate melody that required a singer with extra powerful vocal chords and a sensitive soul to feel the passions in order to express the magical feeling to the fullest.
It is not over till the fat lady sings!
One of the operas most long-lasting stereotypes was the fat sopranos, though there are many slim ones nowadays. There is one major joke about one plump singer, whose name history books declined to mentioned It seemed like she was complaining about everything and ordering people around. She demanded a mattress, which she was to fall on during an opera, to be changed, due to its hardness that could bruise her. The exasperated stagehands then changed the mattress into a trampoline assuring her of a soft fall. During the final act where she threw herself into the sea, the audience was very surprised that she bounced up a few times when she was supposed to be in the sea!
It was not until the start of the nineteenth century that the tenor voices were of importance. A lot of male singers used their falsetto voice to attained high pitches which was thin and airy. However, Domenico Donzelli devised a method to sing from the chest, which produced a more powerful sound but was a great strain to the throat. He became a stunt man of the voice and his revolutionary high C have kept audiences at the edge of their seats. The high C is still the ultimate test for aspiring tenors of today.