all important

List of important operas

This list provides a guide to the most important operas, as determined by their presence on a majority of compiled lists of significant operas: see the "Lists Consulted" section for full details. The operas listed cover all important genres, and include all operas regularly performed today, from seventeenth-century works by Monteverdi, Cavalli, and Purcell to late twentieth-century operas by Messiaen, Berio, Glass, Adams, Birtwistle, and Judith Weir. The brief accompanying notes offer an explanation as to why each opera has been considered important. For an introduction to operatic history, see Opera. The organisation of the list is by year of first performance, or, if this was long after the composer's death, approximate date of composition.

1600 – 1699

  • 1607 L'Orfeo (Claudio Monteverdi). This is widely regarded as the first operatic masterwork.
  • 1640 Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (Claudio Monteverdi). Monteverdi's first opera for Venice, based on Homer's Odyssey, displays the composer's mastery of portrayal of genuine individuals as opposed to stereotypes.
  • 1642 L'incoronazione di Poppea (Claudio Monteverdi). Monteverdi's last opera, composed for a Venetian audience, is often performed today. Its Venetian context helps to explain the complete absence of the moralizing tone often associated with opera of this time.
  • 1644 Ormindo (Francesco Cavalli). One of the first of Cavalli's operas to be revived in the 20th century, Ormindo is considered one of his more attractive works.
  • 1649 Giasone (Francesco Cavalli). In Giasone Cavalli, for the first time, separated aria and recitative.Giasone was the most popular opera of the 17th century.
  • 1651 La Calisto (Francesco Cavalli). The ninth of the eleven operas that Cavalli wrote with Faustini is noted for its satire of the deities of classical mythology.
  • 1683 Dido and Aeneas (Henry Purcell). Often considered to be the first genuine English-language operatic masterwork. Not first performed in 1689 at a girls' school, as is commonly believed, but at Charles II's court in 1683.
  • 1692 The Fairy-Queen (Henry Purcell). A semi-opera rather than a genuine opera, this is often thought to be Purcell's finest dramatic work.

1700 – 1749

1750 – 1799

1800 – 1832

1833 – 1849

1850 – 1875

1876 – 1899

1900 – 1920

1921 – 1944

From 1945

Significant firsts in opera history

Operas not included in the above list, but which were important milestones in operatic history.

See also



Lists consulted

This list was compiled by consulting nine lists of great operas, created by recognized authorities in the field of opera, and selecting all of the operas which appeared on at least five of these (i.e. all operas on a majority of the lists). The lists used were:

  1. A-Z of Opera by Keith Anderson, Naxos, 2000. .
  2. "The Standard Repertoire of Grand Opera 1607-1969", a list included in Norman Davies's Europe: a History (OUP, 1996; paperback edition Pimlico, 1997) ISBN 0-7126-6633-8.
  3. Operas appearing in the chronology by Mary Ann Smart in The Oxford Illustrated History of Opera (OUP, 1994) ISBN 0-19-816282-0.
  4. Operas with entries in The New Kobbe's Opera Book, ed. Lord Harewood (Putnam, 9th ed., 1997) ISBN 0-370-10020-4
  5. Table of Contents of The Rough Guide to Opera. . by Matthew Boyden. (2002 edition) ISBN 1-85828-749-9.
  6. Operas with entries in The Metropolitan Opera Guide to Recorded Opera ed. Paul Gruber (Thames and Hudson, 1993) ISBN 0393034445 and/or Metropolitan Opera Stories of the Great Operas ed. John W Freeman (Norton, 1984) ISBN 0393018881
  7. List of operas and their composers in Who's Who in British Opera ed. Nicky Adam (Scolar Press, 1993) ISBN 0 859 67 894 6
  8. Entries for individual operas inWarrack, John, and Ewan West (1992). The Oxford Dictionary of Opera. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-869164-5.
  9. Entries for individual operas in Who's Who in Opera: a guide to opera characters by Joyce Bourne (Oxford University Press, 1998) ISBN 0192100238


Other references

  • Various entries on operas, composers and genres from: Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 19 January 2007),, subscription access.
  • The Viking Opera Guide (1993) ISBN 0-670-81292-7 Contributions are by noted specialists in their fields.
  • Warrack, John; West, Ewan (1992). The Oxford Dictionary of Opera. ISBN 0-19-869164-5.
  • Boyden, Matthew, et al. (1997). Opera, the Rough Guide. ISBN 1-85828-138-5.
  • Opera: A Concise History. World of Art, Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0500202176.
  • Encyclopedia Britannica: Macropedia Volume 24, 15th edition. "Opera" in "Musical forms and genres". ISBN 0-85229-434-4
  • (1994). The Oxford Illustrated History of Opera. London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816282-0.
  • The Penguin Guide to Opera on Compact Discs ed. Greenfield, March and Layton (1993 edition) ISBN 0-14-046957-5.
  • Stein, Louise K. (1999), La púrpura de la Rosa (Introduction to the critical edition of the score and libretto), Ediciones Iberautor Promociones culturales S.R.L. / Instituto Complutense de Ciencias Musicales, 1999, ISBN 8480482923 (reprinted with permission of the publisher on Accessed 5 September 2008.

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