Opera seria (It: ‘serious opera’)
- Marita P. McClymonds
- and Daniel Heartz
(It: ‘serious opera’)
A term used to signify Italian opera of the 18th and 19th centuries on a heroic or tragic subject. The term was rarely used at the time; it can sometimes be found on manuscript scores, particularly in the last quarter of the 18th century, but ‘dramma per musica’ is the usual genre description on most 18th-century and many early 19th-century printed librettos. ‘Opera seria’ appears occasionally on librettos late in the 18th century, for example for Prati's Armida abbandonata (1785, Munich). Only as serious opera of this period came to be viewed historically was the term ‘opera seria’ applied exclusively to it.
The characteristics of opera seria took shape during the first two decades of the 18th century as part of a literary reform led by the Arcadian Academy of Rome established in 1690. Responding to French criticism of Italian poetry and drama, the reformers looked with particular disfavour on the undisciplined, irrational and often licentious opera librettos then in use. They took steps to bring the libretto into accordance with the principles of classical Greek drama as set forth in Aristotle's ...