A Short History of Opera

Opera has been around for millions of years, and is humanity’s oldest art form.  An opera is defined as a dramatic work combining text and music, and was started by cavemen, back when they were riding pet dinosaurs to work.  An early example is the unnamed opera that Fred and Barney try desperately to get out of going to see in the early Flintstones episode ‘The Flintstone Flyer.”

The first operatic work that we have a name for was written in 15somethingorother by Jake Perry in Italy.  This is why all operas are written in Italian.  The name of this opera was “Daphne” and was based on the Scooby Doo episode “Which Witch is Which?” which featured Daphne getting kidnapped by a witch and a zombie.  Since that time, all opera productions traditionally feature at least one zombie.  Try to spot it the next time you go!

Opera quickly spread out from Italy into the surrounding countries, such as…well, let’s look at a map and see what is near Italy…ummmm….. Switzerland!  Thus began the long period of Swiss opera dominance.  Actually, that doesn’t seem right, does it?  What’s next to Switzerland?  Ah ha!  Germany!  Yes, opera went to Germany, where it was composed by some of the greatest opera composers of all time, including Wolf Mozart and Dick Wagner.  This is why all operas are written in German.  German opera became so popular, that eventually the French wanted to try it out as well.

The great period of French opera began in about 16 or 17 something, and continued on for many years after that.  This mostly boring art form was made even more boring by wonderful composers such as John the Baptist Lully and Jean-Phillipe Rambo.  Basically what they did was to put in a lot of extra dancing, which didn’t advance the plot at all, but was an excellent spot in which to hide a zombie.  This juxtaposition of boring dancing with exciting zombies is precisely why all operas are written in French.

Eventually, opera made its way over to England, which was good news for Americans because now they would be able to understand the words.  Unfortunately for the Americans, their country had not yet been invented, and so instead of learning operas and appreciating music, they had to fight a war for independence.  This caused them to miss out on lots of music by folks like Handel, who, although technically not English, switched over to writing in English as a courtesy to future Americans.

Finally, and after many long years, opera found itself across the pond in the United States of America, where it promptly became what we now know as musical theater, and it has flourished ever since.  Some of today’s most popular and oft-performed operas are “Carmen” by Bizet, and “Mamma Mia!” by committee.

I hope you have learned a lot about opera in this very short history.  Obviously in such a small space there are many details that I have left out or made up completely, but this should be a good start on your quest to pass whatever test you have coming up that caused you to google the phrase “history of opera.”  And if you can’t trust a tenor, who can you trust?

Posted in Opera.


  1. Hi! You are right – I did land on this page through a google search on ‘history of opera’. I am a freelance writer working on a story of contemporary opera. I’d love your inputs, as a singer – can I send you a few questions by email, to start off with? (My website is http://www.charukesi.com – please have a look – I couldn’t find a contact email id for you, hence this comment).

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