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FUN FACTS ABOUT… OPERA The term “opera” comes from the Latin opus, or “work.”The earliest surviving opera (written by Jacopo Peri and Ottavio Rinuccini) is Euridice which was performed in Florence in 1600. The first public opera house (San Cassiano) opened in Venice in 1637 where “the father of opera,” Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), shifted the emphasis from a more dialogue-based opera to a more musical opera. Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) is considered the father of French opera, though he was actually born in Italy. He pioneered the concept of the conducting stick. The first opera by a woman, Francesca Caccini (1587-1641), was the 1625 La liberazione di Ruggiero. The founder of German opera is Christoph Willibald von Gluck (1714-1787) who was a major force in moving opera away from unnatural and dramatic practices to more realistic performances. The La Scala Opera House (inaugurated in 1778) in Milan, Italy, is famous for having the hardest-to-please audience in opera. The audience has been known to make a performer keep singing until he or she “gets it right. Mozart wrote his first opera, Bastien und Bastienne, a parody of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s operatic intermezzo Le devin du village (The Village Soothsayer), when he was only 12 years old. Opera composers would sometimes hire a group of people to cheer their works or boo the works of their rivals. This group was called a claque (clapping) and was common at European opera performances. When Charles Gounod’s (1818-1893) opera Faust wasn’t selling tickets, the producer gave away tickets for the first three performances to people out of town and declared the performances were sold out. Wondering what all the fuss was about, the public began buying tickets, and Faust became a hit. The first performance of Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly was one of opera’s all-time worst flops. The audience made bird, cow, and goat calls and booed. Madama Butterfly, however, became one of the best-loved operas in history. Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868) wrote one of the most famous operas, The Barber of Seville, in just two weeks. Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) is a cycle of four operas. They are usually performed individually, but Wagner intended they be performed in a series as a coherent whole. It makes The Ring the world’s longest opera at over 14 hours. Wagner wrote it over a 30-year span. Enrico Caruso (1873-1921), arguably the greatest opera singer of all time, was the 18th of 21 children, only three of whom lived beyond infancy. As a boy, he worked in a machine shop to help his family and sang on street corners to make money. He was the first opera singer to perform without dynamic modulation, which is to sing almost exclusively forte (loud). Luciano Pavarotti received 165 curtain calls on February 24, 1988, after singing in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore in Berlin.