THE HARMONIC STYLE
THE textbooks usually dwell on the year 1600 as the date of the beginning of opera. In that year a set of Florentine musicians, consisting of Jacopo Peri, Giulio Caccini, and others, brought out Peri "Euridice," embodying dramatic principles as they understood them after studying the old Greek drama. Sometimes Peri's earlier work, "Dafne," is called the first opera. But as a matter of fact, Italy had witnessed what was practically an opera over a century earlier than that date, and had seen the development of a tentative operatic school.
Mediæval drama consisted of mystery plays, miracle plays, and moralities. The mysteries were plays representing Biblical stories. The miracle plays treated the lives of the saints, and may be said to have included the passion play, dealing with the life and crucifixion of Christ. The moralities were allegories of a moral or religious sort, such as the play of "Everyman," recently revived by an English company. In South France the "Fête de l'Âne" introduced an element of comedy.
Italy, however, developed the secular drama, which flourished first at Mantua. In 1472, when the Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga returned to Mantua from Bologna, we find the former place witnessing what may fairly be considered the first opera -- "La Favola di Orfeo," by Angelo Poliziani. The plot begins among shepherds. When Orpheus enters, he is told of Euridice's death, and determines to seek her among the shades, as in the mythical story. He wins her from Pluto, loses her by looking back in defiance of his agreement, and is stopped by Tisiphone from trying to find her again. His railings then incense the mænads, who drive him off the stage and slay him. This is set to music, consisting of solos, dialogues, and choruses which suggest the frottola, the carnival songs, and the old ballata, or dance-song. The solo parts were arranged in the manner developed by the lute-players, who would sing one part of a polyphonic com-