In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Opera

  • Introduction
  • General Histories and Reference Works
  • Spain
  • Germany and Austria

Renaissance and Reformation Opera
Beth L. Glixon, Jonathan E. Glixon
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 December 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 December 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0176


The early decades of the 17th century saw a number of musical innovations, of which opera—that is, a play set entirely to music—was perhaps the most significant. Although often treated in histories of music as one of the first manifestations of the baroque period, early opera emerged directly from late Renaissance humanist circles in Rome and Florence. At first the entertainment of the privileged in the courts of Florence and Mantua, and then a spectacle mounted by the pope’s family in Rome, opera would soon flourish in Venice following the opening of the first public theater there in 1637. Within a few years, as many as five theaters had opened, and carnival season in Venice became a highlight for Venetians and foreigners alike. Opera eventually spread from Venice throughout Italy and to German-speaking lands, France, England, and, to some extent, also to Spain and the New World. At its most basic level, 17th-century opera means Claudio Monteverdi, Jean-Baptiste Lully, and Henry Purcell. As is the case with so much scholarship associated with 17th-century music, this bibliography draws much of its inspiration from the beginnings of opera and Monteverdi, but it moves beyond “il divino Claudio” to highlight a wide range of books, articles, and scores that inform nearly the entire 17th century. The articles and books represent a wide range of approaches, from archival to gender centered. It should be noted that while there were some significant changes to opera around the year 1700, the chronological end point of this bibliography, the development of the genre was essentially continuous. The later history of opera is covered in a separate Oxford Bibliographies: Renaissance and Reformation article on Music.

General Histories and Reference Works

Perhaps the best way to begin an investigation into the first century of opera is with a broad chronological survey, such as Grout 1965. Becker and Quandt 1981 surveys opera in the 17th century through the original documents, and Leopold 2004 offers a comprehensive overview of opera in the century. Most other research in the field has been quite specialized, as can be seen throughout this bibliography. Glixon 2010 includes a useful introduction surveying the scholarship and a selection of essays that can provide insight into the varying approaches that scholars have employed. To answer specific questions about composers, cities, or even individual operas, turn to the Grove dictionaries, in particular Sadie 1992.

  • Becker, Heinz, and Reinhold Quandt. Quellentexte zur Konzeption der europäischen Oper im 17. Jahrhundert. Musikwissenschaftliche Arbeiten 27. Kassel, West Germany: Bärenreiter, 1981.

    This volume presents a wide selection of documents in their original language concerning Italian, French, and German opera, each accompanied by commentaries in German.

  • Glixon, Beth L., ed. Studies in Seventeenth-Century Opera. Ashgate Library of Essays in Opera Studies 1. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2010.

    The volume comprises reprints of important essays on 17th-century opera, by some of the leading post-1990 scholars, including Ellen Rosand, Wendy Heller, Margaret Murata, Louise Stein, John Hill, Lois Rosow, Rebecca Harris-Warrick, Beth Glixon, Colin Timms, and Tim Carter. The essays are preceded by a historiographical introduction to 17th-century opera in Italy, France, Spain, England, and Germany.

  • Grout, Donald Jay. A Short History of Opera. 2d ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1965.

    The most comprehensive American guide to opera, subsequently updated by Hermione Weigel Williams (4th ed., 2003).

  • Leopold, Silke. Die Oper im 17. Jahrhundert. Handbuch der Musikalischen Gattungen 11. Laaber, Germany: Laaber-Verlag, 2004.

    One of the few sources to provide a comprehensive coverage of 17th-century opera within one volume. In German.

  • Sadie, Stanley, ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. New York: Grove’s Dictionaries of Music, 1992.

    Basic reference work with articles by major scholars on composers, operas, theaters and operatic traditions, and singers. Now also available online, by subscription and at most research libraries, as part of Grove Music Online.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.