As the painters and sculptors of Florence went about redefining the boundaries of their art form, the city's composers and musicians dutifully followed suit. A mixture of singing, dancing, and elaborate costumes, the opera in Italy was born as the 16th century ended and immediately established itself as one of the most respected musical forms in the world. The world was shifting from the stifling religious themes of the Middle Ages towards the Enlightenment's celebration of human emotion, and operas were at the forefront of this movement.
The history of Italian opera is forever interwoven with the aristocratic leaders of the time - the musical form was derived from courtly entertainment in palaces all over the world and originally conceived as a recreational activity performed for only the very wealthy. Many early operas were written specifically for royalty and originally seen by only a select few Florentines. But their popularity soon grew, and the opera in Italy blossomed with it, thanks mainly to famous composers such as Verdi, Bellini and Puccini. Their works have stood the test of time - every famous Italian opera singer has performed something written by at least one of these luminaries.
Many Italian opera houses built during this time still exist today, and most of them still hold performances on a regular basis. Fans of the medium should make sure to visit one, or many, while in Italy, but be sure to get tickets early. The Italian opera season begins late in October and some seats have been purchased years ahead of time. Teatro alla Scalla - the premier opera house since its opening in 1778 - reopened in 2004, adding another page into the extensive history of Italian opera. The only thing missing here is a performance by one of the most famous Italian opera singers, Andrea Bocelli, who refuses to visit the venue due to chronic stage fright.
Teatro Massimo in Palermo is the most acclaimed opera house in Sicily. Its renovation was meant to signal the gentrification of the island. Throughout the year it features more than just operas, a number of other musical and theatrical productions can be seen here too. The passion and tragedy of Italian opera is on display at the gilded Teatro San Carlo, the country's first and foremost performance space, residing in all its glory on Via San Carlo in Naples. Many famous Italian opera singers consider the Teatro Verdi their favorite, due to its small, intimate setting and beautiful frescoes adorning the walls.
But no matter where you choose to attend, true opera fans will never forget the tortured arias of tragic lovers brought to the stage in the opulence of an original Italian opera house.