This article was originally published on Common Edge. In 1755, Francesco Algarotti, disgusted with what opera had become, wrote An Essay On The Opera in which he called for its simplification. For Algarotti, opera had degenerated into a vehicle for soloists to grandstand with endless improvisations overshadowing the music and ignoring the drama. Even the drama had lost the plot with mythological characters in extraordinary and complex situations. Algarotti saw drama as being the essence of opera and wanted the emphasis restored to it, with everything else secondary. Christoph Willibald Gluck and his librettist, Ranieri de’ Calzabigi, were the first to make it work with their 1762 opera Orfeo ed Euridice. It had characters and drama people could relate to, music that could be remembered and lyrics and a plot that could be understood. It’s regarded as the first truly modern opera.
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