Orfeo ed Euridice by Gluck, was written in 1762 and The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart was written in 1786. It is interesting to analyse the changes and developments from opera seria to these two examples.
During the eighteenth century, composers wrote in a style of opera called opera seria.’ Opera seria had the following characteristics:
They used similar plots involving a hero and usually some sort of conflict of human passions, and these operas were often based on a story from an ancient Greek or Latin Author. The opera always consisted of three acts with alternating recitatives and arias. To show the virtuosic skill of the singer, cadenzas were used within arias. The action was created from the dialogue within the recitatives, which were accompanied by continuo and had little musical importance. There were no orchestral pieces, except for the overture and the accompaniments of the singer. It was also very common in the early part of the eighteenth century to write arias in da capo form which was a type of ternary form (ABA) which consisted of the last A section being ornamented.
Opera Reform began with the rise of the expressive style, and at the same time, there were signs of growing influence of middle-class ideas on the aristocratic standards of the early 18th century. The needs of opera were directed towards making a more natural design that had more flexibility within the structure. The content also needed to be deeper and more expressive, less laden with coloratura and more varied. Although the da capo aria was not abandoned, it was expanded and modified with more added forms. The recitatives and arias became more flexible and needed to carry on the action quickly, but realistically. The recitatives had more ac…
… a separate chorus, Mozart uses the ensemble with a chorus-like effect. See example below.
Mozart moves further away from the opera seria da capo arias, which are very rare. However he does occasionally use Ternary form, as seen in the famous aria `Dove Sono.’ See example below. Mozart, unlike Gluck, completely left behind the opera seria recitative accompagnato. Mozart made use of the recitative secco (accompanied with harpsichord and sustaining instruments). However, similarly to the Gluck’s Orfeo, Mozart uses no spoken words within his recitatives.
It is simple to see from the two operas, how opera changed throughout the eighteenth century. By using these two operas, it makes it clear to see the stages in change that opera went through throughout the eighteenth century and to mark the differences and similarities of the two different forms of entertainment.