Six Opera Greats

Opera, meaning ‘the work’, was invented in 1598 in Florence by a group of dilettantes who wanted to include all the art forms together. Since then, it has been one of the major Classical musical forms inspiring composers to write spectacular music. In this series we look at 6 composers and their operas; how their music developed over time, their importance in the musical catalogue and their legacy. The composers are Handel, Mozart, Verdi, Wagner and Puccini.


  • Face-to-Face


  • Handel (1675-1759), the German born, naturalised British citizen is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest composers of his age. Although he wrote in all the vocal and instrumental genres, he made his reputation and fortune composing Italian operas for the London stage. From the time of his death to the early 20th century he was only known for a small amount of instrumental and choral works but today his is seen as a first-rate dramatic composer.
  • Mozart (1756-1789) wrote 22 operas in the Classical period and is regarded as one of the best operas composers who ever lived. He grasped and mastered all forms of opera bringing it to a new level of musical sophistication and emotional depth while demanding excellent plots with realistic characters, writing his first at 11.
  • Verdi (1813-1901), the Italian composer’s musical life can be seen in four periods: the early grandiose, the personal middle, the late and then the final. There is enormous development from early to final period, but they all reflect his musical ideas, the world around him and his own personal life.
  • Wagner (1813 – 1883) is probably the most controversial composer of all time. No other classical musician has aroused such fanaticism, for and against. He re-invented opera which led to musical modernism with his new use of harmonies and structure which broke away from older more formal styles of musical construction.
  • The Operetta is a theatrical form which falls somewhere between opera and the musical. It includes spoken dialogue, songs and dances sometimes performed by the main characters. Although it is considered lighter than traditional opera, it often makes very controversial political commentaries in response to contemporary oppressive governments and militaries.
  • Puccini (1858- 1924) and his musical style was broadly that of the late Romantic period which included Italian composers who came at the end of Verdi’s career. He continually updated his style, keeping pace with new tends while not always adopting them but also added outside sources into his operas like Chinese folk melodies.


By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Identify some arias from the composers’ studies.
  2. Explain the different opera styles.
  3. Discuss the impact these styles had on society.

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