Operas are stories to music and vocals. A few opera composers have reached successful heights with their work with worldwide acclaim centuries later. Here we have five opera composers that created fantastic operatic pieces, yet only the meticulous opera fan are able to recognize them.
1. Ella Georgiyevna Adayevskaya
This composer not only wrote operas – she created choral works, other vocal arrangements, and chamber music. She also printed her own writings on traditional music of ancient Greece. Adayevskaya was born in St. Petersburg in 1846 under the name Elizaveta von Schultz. Her last name was a creation of certain musical notes she knew from an opera by Mikhail Glinka titled Ruslan and Ludmila.
When she was a child, she began lessons on her first instrument, the piano and she trained under a few professors including Adolf von Henselt, Anton Rubinstein, and Alexander Dreyschock. Adayevskaya’s training didn’t end there; she trained as a composer with Alexander Faminstyn and Nikolai Zaremba.
She began writing for the Russian Imperial Chapel Choir in the very beginning and her work done for them is the earliest of hers we know about. Then she moved on to compose two operas. Neprigozhaya and Zarya are the two operatic works from Adayevskaya, both premiering in the 1870s.
The latter was composed by Adayevskaya in honor of Tsar Alexander II, but the censors banned it. Ella didn’t stop though; she went on to tour Europe as a solo act many times until she chose to live in Venice in 1882. She composed more pieces including a Greek Sonata and assembled tunes from Raetia, a province that existed in Roman-ruled Europe.
2. Joseph Maurice Ravel
Born in France this pianist, conductor, and composer has a name that is typically thought of when discussing impressionism even though he didn’t care for the expression. In the early 20th century Ravel had garnered global fame and was considered the best composer France had to offer at the time. His life began in Cibourne, France, a north-eastern town.
Ravel began officially training in music when he was seven and became a student of Henry Ghys although it is said he possibly had earlier lessons with his father who was an amateur musician. He went on to study further with Charles-René, and the professor was quoted as saying Ravel had a natural ability he didn’t see in other students; Ravel’s talent came with ease while the others came as “the result of effort.”
Ravel became familiar and especially interested in Spanish musical styles when he met a young pianist, Ricardo Vines, and the two became friends. The both enjoyed Wagner, Poe works, and Mallarmé. The would-be friends for life and greatly influence each other.
Ravel entered the Paris Conservatoire after he passed the entrance exam by playing Chopin. He also won a competition by the conservatory in 1891. The advancements Ravel achieved in composition was great while he attended the Paris Conservatoire.
Over his time as a composer Ravel created many works, three of his operas that were never fully completed are Olympia, La cloche engloutie, and Jeanne d’Arc. His completed operas include L’heure espagnole in 1911 and L’enfant et les sortilèges in 1926.
3. Elfrida Andrée
Visby, a Swedish locality, is the birthplace of our next composer, whose sister was the singer Fredrika Stenhammar. Andrée studied under Niels Wilhelm Gade and Ludvig Norman, but he was not only involved in creating music – Andrée also worked as a campaigner for women’s rights in Sweden.
Andrée was one of the first female musicians to be selected to play organ in Scandinavia. In 1861 she relocated to Stockholm and would eventually work her way up to organist for the Gothenburg Cathedral six years later. Andrée’s hard worked earned her a place in the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.
The compositions that survive Andrée include two organ symphonies that are still in rotation around the world, her opera Frithiofs saga, orchestral pieces, a piano quartet, and a piano trio. Andrée died in Gothenburg on January 11, 1929, at the age of eighty-eight.
4. Gabriel Urbain Fauré
Falling under the style of “romantic,” this next composer was born in Pamiers in southern France. He was one of six, and his family was not musical, unlike other composers. A woman, who was blind but had a penchant for music, commented on his abilities to Fauré’s father and her claims were reinforced when Lucien Dufaur de Saubiac, a member of the National Assembly, heard the boy play.
Saubiac suggested to the elder Fauré that his son attend the School of Classical and Religious Music, which was just being established in Paris. His father waited one year but then enrolled Fauré in the school in 1854. He was nine.
Fauré would stay at the school until he was twenty on scholarship. While there he trained under Clément Loret on the organ, harmony with Louis Dietsch, and Louis Niedermeyer, the founder of the school, in piano and composition. The latter teacher passed on in 1861, and Camille Saint-Saëns took charge of Fauré’s piano lessons.
Once he was finished with his education, Fauré got a job as an organist at the Church of Saint-Sauveur in Brittany, France. He also taught private lessons to make up where he lacked in finances. It is said he composed during this time, but there are no documents that survived.
This composer would not only go on to teach at the school he attended he also served as the head of the Conservatoire until he was seventy-five years old. He was forced to retire due to his increasing age and inability to hear. He has been awarded the Grand-Croix, a rare musical honor and in 1922 a grand concert of his works was playing in a concert celebration. Fauré was in attendance but he, unfortunately, could not hear a note.
5. Vincenzo Bellini
Our last composer hailed from Sicily and was born into a musical family. He studied at the Naples Conservatory and began producing works right away while attending the Conservatory; Bellini was commissioned by a wealthy benefactor to create Bianca e Fernando to be premiered at the Naples Opera.
When the opera became a success, Bellini found more commissions offered to him, and by 1831 he had written a great deal of operas. His work La sonnombula has gone on to become a very popular opera in England and falls under the genre of opera Semiserio, which means what it sounds like. It is a semi-serious opera, with a serious subject matter but the ending is happy.
Bellini relocated to London a few years after he found success with La sonnombula but only lived there a short time. He relocated to France and settled in Paris. It was here where Bellini would write his final opera I puritani in 1835. Norma is considered by some to be Bellini’s best work, and it continues to be performed today.
Still, the reception for Norma was predominantly negative on the night it premiered. Bellini died from peritonitis at the age of thirty-three in Paris, which makes us wonder how many wonderful works would this composer have created if had not have died so young.
We have included two female composers here, yet they did not obtain huge recognition for their works in the art form of opera. See this list to learn more about 5 of the most popular female opera composers of all time.