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Hamburg opera might also include comic characters Keiser's Der Carneval von Venedig of has them speaking in the local Lower Saxon dialect , marking a great contrast to the elevated new style of opera seria as defined by Metastasio. Yet the immediate future belonged to Italian opera. The most famous German-born opera composer of the era, Handel , wrote four operas for Hamburg at the beginning of his career but soon moved on to write opera seria in Italy and England.
The other leading German composers of the time tended to follow Handel's example.
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This was because the courts of the various German states favoured opera in Italian. In the chief proponent of opera seria, the Italian librettist Metastasio , took up residence as the imperial poet in Vienna. The king himself supplied the libretto for Graun's Montezuma , first performed in Deprived of aristocratic patronage, opera in German was forced to look to the general public to survive.
This meant theatrical companies had to tour from town to town. The Singspiel became the most popular form of German opera, especially in the hands of the composer Johann Adam Hiller. Hiller's reworking of the Singspiel Die verwandelten Weiber was a landmark in the history of the genre, although his most famous work would be Die Jagd Abel Seyler , the Swiss-born director of the Seyler theatrical company , was noted as a proponent of German opera, commissioning operas by Hiller, Georg Anton Benda , Anton Schweitzer and other composers.
Often having sentimental plots and extremely simple music, Singspiele were no match for contemporary opera serias in artistic sophistication. A milestone of German opera was Anton Schweitzer 's Alceste , with a libretto by Wieland , premiered in in Weimar. As music moved into the Classical era in the late 18th century, most German-born composers still avoided writing opera in their own language. The great figure of the early Classical period was Christoph Willibald von Gluck but his pioneering reforms were directed at Italian and French opera, not the German repertoire. In , Emperor Joseph II attempted to change this state of affairs by establishing a German-language opera troupe, the National Singspiel, at the Burgtheater in Vienna.
Goethe immediately recognised the quality of the piece, declaring "it knocked us all sideways". In the following years commercial theatres sprang up in Vienna offering German-language opera. The impresario Emanuel Schikaneder had particular success with his Theater auf der Wieden on the outskirts of the city. In , he persuaded Mozart to set one of his libretti, The Magic Flute. This proved to be no ordinary Singspiel. Though the traditional farcical elements remained, Mozart added a new seriousness, particularly in the music for Sarastro and his priests.
The greatest German composer of the next generation, Beethoven , seized on The Magic Flute' s blend of domestic comedy and high seriousness for his only opera, Fidelio , the story of a devoted wife who saves her husband from political imprisonment. The years following the French Revolution of had been some of the most turbulent in European history. In Fidelio , Beethoven wanted to express the ideals of that Revolution: liberty, equality and fraternity.
He was also inspired by contemporary French works, particularly the "rescue operas" of Luigi Cherubini. Beethoven was arguably not a natural composer of opera and, although Fidelio was premiered in , it was not until that he produced its final version. Nevertheless, Fidelio is widely regarded as a masterpiece and is one of the key works in the German repertoire. In the early years of the nineteenth century, the vast cultural movement known as Romanticism began to exert an influence over German composers. The Romantics showed a keen interest in the Middle Ages as well as German folklore.
The fairy tale collections of the Brothers Grimm and the rediscovered Medieval German epic the Nibelungenlied were major sources of inspiration for the movement. There was also often a quest for a distinctively German identity, influenced by the new nationalism which had arisen in the wake of the Napoleonic invasions. Romanticism was already firmly established in German literature with writers such as Tieck , Novalis , Eichendorff and Clemens Brentano. One of the most famous German Romantic authors, E. Hoffmann , was also a music theorist and a composer in his own right and in he produced an opera, Undine , in Berlin.
Another important early Romantic opera was Faust by Louis Spohr also Both Hoffmann and Spohr took the basic form of the Singspiel as their starting point but began to group the individual numbers into extended scenes. They also employed "reminiscence motifs", recurring musical themes associated with characters or concepts in the opera, which would pave the way for Wagner's use of the leitmotif. Weber resented the Europe-wide dominance of the Italian operas of Rossini and wanted to establish a uniquely German style of opera.
Weber's strong point was his striking ability to evoke atmosphere through orchestral colour. From the very first bars of the overture, it is obvious we are in the primeval forests of Germany. The highlight of the opera is the chilling Wolf's Glen Scene in which the hero Max makes his deal with the Devil. Weber never really achieved his full potential as an opera composer due to his early death from tuberculosis and his poor choice of libretti.
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Yet Euryanthe marks another important stage in the development of serious German opera. Weber completely eliminated spoken dialogue, producing a "through-composed" work where the distinction between recitative and aria is becoming blurred. Its lessons would not be lost on future composers, including Richard Wagner.
Weber's most important successor in the field of Romantic opera was Heinrich Marschner , who further explored the Gothic and the supernatural in works such as Der Vampyr and Hans Heiling On the other hand, it was with comic opera that Albert Lortzing scored his biggest successes. The popularity of pieces such as Zar und Zimmermann continues in Germany today, though Lortzing's operas are rarely staged abroad. Though he began in Germany, Giacomo Meyerbeer was more famous for his contributions to Italian and especially French opera. He fused elements from all three national styles into his conception of grand opera , which had an important influence on the development of German music, including Wagner's early works.