Opera: Forerunners of opera can be traced to at the beginning of the Modern Age and were festivities that formed part of court life in such Italian cities as Mantua and Florence. In 1594 a dramatic work, "Dafne", with music by J. Peri to a text by O. Rinuccini, was performed in Florence, and from the early 17th century performances of musical productions also took place in Austria: The first opera production north of the Alps was shown in 1614 at the court of the Archbishop of Salzburg, Marcus Sitticus von Hohenems, by an Italian opera troupe. When members of the Habsburg dynasty married princesses of the houses of Gonzaga and Medici, the new musical genre also became popular with the Austrian rulers. Under Leopold V and Claudia of Medici, Innsbruck became an important centre (one of the first "Comödienhäuser" ("comedy buildings") north of the Alps was built there in 1629/30). Opera did not find a home at the Imperial Court in Vienna until 1625; it asserted its position in the 1740s and soon thereafter became a hallmark of courtly pomp. Baroque opera, which was an exclusive feature of court culture in Austria well into the 18th century, was regarded as a "Gesamtkunstwerk" ("total work of art") to which all the arts and artists of the court (architecture, painting, music and dance) made their contributions in honour of the ruler. Occasions for operatic performances were the rulers' and their families' birthdays and namedays, marriages, births of heirs to the throne etc. Operas were especially written and composed for such purposes and were therefore played only once, a practice that persisted well into the 18th century. Opera at the Imperial Court of Vienna acquired an almost legendary reputation under those Austrian emperors who were not only music enthusiasts but also active musicians, Ferdinand III, Leopold I (who actually composed operas and operatic arias), Joseph I and Karl VI. P. A. Cesti's "Il pomo d´oro" (1668), F. Conti's "Il trionfo dell´amicizia e dell´amore" (1711) and "Costanza e Fortezza" (1723) by J. J. Fux evoked international interest and praise. But it was not only outstanding composers such P. A. Cesti, M. A. Ziani, A. Draghi, G. F. Sances, A. Caldara, G. Bononcini, J. J. Fux and others, but also librettists like A. Zeno and P. Metastasio who earned fame. Maria Theresia, who was forced to reduce court expenditures, nevertheless continued the Court Opera tradition ("Metastasian opera" with composers such as. J. A. Hasse, J. Bonno and C. W. Gluck. Side by side with Court Opera, theatrical and operatic productions were increasingly under the influence of aristocrats such as W. A. Kaunitz, who promoted French plays and opera. This Francophile attitude was also important for Gluck's opera reform, which sought to combine the new ideas of A. Zeno and P. Metastasio with the ideals of French opera.The "Nationalsingspiel" genre, typified by I. Umlauf's "Die Bergknappen" with which the Vienna Hofburgtheater was opened in 1778, owed its origin to an order issued by Emperor Joseph II rather than the aspirations of Vienna's bourgeois population to educate their minds.
Composers who wrote in the vein of the Viennese singspiel (as opposed to similar productions in northern Germany) included P. Wranitzky, J. Weigl, J. B. Schenk and W. Müller; however, the genre was also adopted by W. A. Mozart in his "Entführung aus dem Serail" and "Zauberflöte". After the Emperor's death, the Burgtheater rapidly became the home of Italian opera, and the singspiel moved to the suburban theatres (Theater an der Wien, Freihaustheater, Theater in der Leopoldstadt, Theater in der Josefstadt) with their popular musical plays, which had attracted suburban audiences from the early 18th century onwards.
After the culmination of opera in all its facets (the courtly opera seria, opera buffa, singspiel etc.), which is linked with the names of J. A. Hasse, A. Salieri, C. W. Gluck and W. A. Mozart (and ultimately L. van Beethoven´s "Fidelio"), the first half of the 19th century saw a crisis for opera, particularly with regard to the works of Austrian composers, as exemplified by F. Schubert´s attempts to write successful operas.
The most popular forms of music theatre, and the area in which most works were created, were the singspiel and popular comedies in Viennese dialect richly garnished with music numbers. "Grand opera" at the Burgtheater and Kärntnertortheater, however, was (and still is) dominated by the Italian repertoire, with only few exceptions such as C. M. von Weber, A. Gyrowetz and J. Vesque von Püttlingen. While the production of operas by Austrian composers increased continuously up to the beginning of the 20th century, few of these works, or their authors, were able to find a steady place in the repertoire, the only exception being the works of R. Strauss.
On the other hand, this was also the time when opera became a social and cultural institution, particularly under the directors F. Schalk, R. Strauss and G. Mahler. Alongside the Vienna Hofoper (later Staatsoper), opera houses or theatres that included opera in their repertory existed at Graz, Linz, Innsbruck and Klagenfurt; they served as a springboard for many young talents, as was also true of the theatres in Bohemia and Moravia (up to 1918), where many outstanding careers (including that of G. Mahler). The Vienna Opera, however, did not confine itself to the cultivation of Italian operas and the works of German Romanticism up to R. Wagner and R. Strauss, but also produced, though with a smaller number of performances, contemporary and avant-garde works: A. Schönberg´s one-act operas "Erwartung" and "Die glückliche Hand", A. Berg´s "Wozzeck" (which has since become a "classic" of modern opera), E. Krenek´s "Jonny spielt auf" (Jonny strikes up the band) and G. von Einem´s "Dantons Tod" (Danton's Death).
Literature: G. Zechmeister, Das Wiener Theater nächst der Burg und nächst dem Kärntnerthor von 1747 bis 1776, 1971; O. Michtner, Das alte Burgtheater als Opernbühne, 1970; H. Seifert, Die Wiener Oper am Kaiserhof im 17. Jahrhundert, 1985; N. Tschulik, Musiktheater in Österreich, die Oper im 20. Jahrhundert, 1984; A. Seebohm (ed.), Die Wiener Oper, 1986.
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