Apollo, who was a deity in Greco-Roman mythology, fell head over heels in love with Daphne – a beautiful nymph. Unfortunately, she wasn’t interested at all – despite Apollo being the most handsome god.

Their history was described by the Roman poet Ovid in his magnum opus Metamorphoses, and sixteen centuries later…

… Jacopo Peri created what is now considered the first opera in the history of music – La Dafne – based on Ovid’s poem. The story of opera originates in Italy, but is Italian the only language it can be sung in?

Briefly about the roots of opera

Jacobo Peri, possibly collaborating with Jacobo Corsi, created La Dafne. Peri was an Italian composer, and also a member of the Florentine Camerata (aka Camerata de’ Bardi) – a group of intellectuals who spent their leisure time discussing current trends in music and drama.

Another member of the Camerata de’ Bardi, Ottavio Rinuccini, wrote libretti both for La Dafne and Euridice – also composed by Peri. The premiere of Euridice in 1600 marks the beginning of opera. It’s the oldest surviving piece that can be called as such since most of La Dafne is lost.

The word opera derives from the Latin opus and means work, creation, activity – just any manifestation of the human mind and genius. It requires a great deal of artistic creation indeed – opera includes acting, dancing, scenery, costume, ballet, and of course instruments.

Italian – the language of music

Answering the question of why opera is sung in Italian seems now quite simple – because the genre originated in Florence. However, the language itself simplified the stylistic development of opera. Even such figures as Mozart and Handel often chose Italian libretti. The reason for its predominance is that the language itself is naturally melodious.

It’s easy to notice Italian influence when analyzing musical terminology. There are plenty of Italian musical terms used in English (and many other languages), such as a capella, libretto, orchestra, piano, forte, soprano, adagio, tempo, crescendo, legato, staccato, bravo, maestro.

Are there operas in languages other than Italian?

Although Italy is the cradle of opera and Italian is the language of the most popular compositions, musicians can write pieces in their native languages. And actually, they have done it for years. As early as in 1627 Heinrich Schütz created his own German version of Dafne.

Today, you can find operas in many different languages, however, Italian is still the most acclaimed and frequently chosen by both librettists and viewers. The most popular opera composers include mainly Italians, such as Monteverdi, Rossini, Verdi, and Puccini.

Do I have to know Italian to enjoy opera?

Of course, seeing and understanding the greatest operas in their original language is a fantastic experience. But you don’t need to know Italian to follow the libretto. Many opera venues display supertitles, i.e. translations designed to be projected above the stage in opera houses. Also, what you can do to catch up with the plot is to read about the story it describes before seeing the opera.

When is the best time to feel the true magic of original Italian opera? During a trip to Rome! We’re inviting you to amazing opera concerts in the most remarkable Italian city. Come and see Opera da Camera di Roma.