Oakeley, Sir Herbert (Stanley)

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Open notes.

On valved brass instruments, the notes of the harmonic series produced without lowering any valve. In brass parts, however, ‘open’ (Fr. ouvert, etc.) countermands ‘muted’ or ‘stopped’.

On the natural horn, the notes of the harmonic series, the other pitches being produced by hand-stopping. These open notes are also called Natural notes.

Open pedal.

See Sustaining pedal.

Open position [open harmony].

See under Spacing.

Open score.

A score in which each individual voice of a polyphonic composition is assigned a separate staff (see Score and Organ score).

Open string.

In string instruments, a string played at its full sounding-length without ‘stopping’ (that is, without touching the string or pressing it down with the finger). In unfretted string instruments in particular there is a difference between the sound of an open string and the sound of a stopped string sounding the same pitch. Open E string on the violin, for instance, has a different timbre from a note of the same pitch produced by stopping the A string a 5th above. Because of this difference, open strings are generally avoided, and since the turn of the 18th century players have generally preferred stopped notes except where, for special effect, an open string is specified – generally by a small ‘o’ placed over the note (see Fingering, §II, 2(i)). In fretted instruments, such as viols and lutes, there is also a difference between stopped and open strings, but this difference is considerably less than in unfretted instruments because a string stopped by pressing down on a fret has a more ‘open’ quality than a string stopped on the unfretted fingerboard. In French lute and viol tablature open strings are indicated by ‘a’, in Italian by a figure ‘0’, and in German tablatures by a different letter for each string.


Open tuning.

A kind of tuning of a guitar, viol, violin or other string instrument in which the open strings are tuned to form a single chord (see Guitar, §8; Scordatura; and Sympathetic strings).


(It., from Lat. opera, plural of opus: ‘work’; Fr. opéra; Ger. Oper).

The present article surveys the origins and the history of opera and its presentation. For fuller discussion of the history of individual sub-genres and related genres, the reader is referred to the entries listed below. Discussion of opera houses and operatic activity in particular cities will be found in entries on the cities concerned, and of the works of individual composers within their entries.

See also Azione teatrale; Ballad opera; Ballet de cour; Ballet-héroïque; Burlesque; Burletta; Chamber opera; Comédie-ballet; Divertissement; Drame lyrique; Dramma giocoso; Dramma per musica; Entrée; Extravaganza; Farsa; Favola in musica; Festa teatrale; Film musical; Grand opéra; Intermède; Intermedio; Intermezzo (ii); Jesuits; Lehrstück; Libretto; Liederspiel; Madrigal comedy; Märchenoper; Masque; Medieval drama; Melodrama; Melodramma; Monodrama; Musical; Music drama; Music theatre; Number opera; Opéra-ballet; Opéra bouffon; Opera buffa; Opéra comique; Opéra-féerie; Opera semiseria; Opera seria; Operetta; Pantomime; Pasticcio; Pastoral; Pastorale-héroïque; Posse; Puppet opera, puppet theatre; Rappresentazione sacra; Rescue opera; Sainete; Schuldrama; Schuloper; Semi-opera; Sepolcro; Serenata; Singspiel; Spieloper; Tonadilla; Tourney; Tragédie en musique; Vaudeville; Verismo; Zarzuela; Zauberoper; and Zeitoper.

I. ‘Opera’

II. Origins

III. Early opera, 1600–90

IV. The 18th century

V. The 19th century

VI. The 20th century

VII. Production




I. ‘Opera’

Most narrowly conceived, the word ‘opera’ signifies a drama in which the actors sing throughout. There are, however, so many exceptions among the operatic works of the West – so many works popularly called operas in which some parts are spoken or mimed – that the word should be more generically defined as a drama in which the actors sing some or all of their parts. Numerous sub-genres, such as opera seria, opera buffa, tragédie en musique and the like, have grown up in the history of opera (information about these sub-genres will be found in separate entries). Some of the sub-genres mix spoken and sung drama in conventional ways. Thus, in operetta, Singspiel, opéra comique and musical comedy the dialogue is normally spoken and musical numbers interrupt the action from time to time. The history of opera is inextricably intertwined with the history of spoken drama. Moreover, since all operatic works combine music, drama and spectacle, though in varying degrees, all three principal elements should be taken into account in any comprehensive study of the genre, even though music has traditionally played the dominant role in the conception and realization of individual works.

The central importance of Italian musicians and poets in the development and early history of opera is suggested by the fact that the word ‘opera’ means simply ‘work’ in Italian and as such was applied to various categories of written or improvised plays in the 16th and early 17th centuries. To cite but one example arbitrarily, Francesco Andreini’s play L’ingannata Proserpina (1611) – according to its dedication intended to be either recited or sung depending on the wishes of its producers – was called an opera rappresentativa, e scenica. The earliest operas either had no generic subtitle (like Ottavio Rinuccini’s Dafne of 1598 and his Euridice of 1600) or else adopted one or another ad hoc definition: favola, opera scenica, tragedia musicale, opera tragicomica musicale, dramma musicale or the like (see Rosand, C(i)1991). It has been suggested (by Grout, A1947, and Pirrotta, Li due Orfei) that either the term opera scenica or the term opera regia (the latter meaning a drama with royal protagonists and a happy ending, a term applied to various commedia dell’arte scenarios as well as to Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea of 1643) might be the origin of the usage that defines ‘opera’ as a specifically musico-dramatic work. In the second third of the 17th century, however, dramma per musica became the normal term for opera, although in England the word ‘opera’ was used in this way as early as the 1650s to mean a dramatic work set to music (G. Strahle: An Early Music Dictionary: Musical Terms from British Sources, 1500–1740, Cambridge, 1995; John Evelyn used the term in 1644). Nevertheless, the use of the word ‘opera’ with this meaning seems to have developed only gradually; it became widespread much later than the invention and early development of the genre.

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