List of major opera composers

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This list provides a guide to the most important opera composers, as determined by their presence on a majority of compiled lists of significant opera composers. (See the "Lists Consulted" section for full details.) The composers run from Jacopo Peri, who wrote the first ever opera in late 16th century Italy, to John Adams, one of the leading figures in the contemporary operatic world. The brief accompanying notes offer an explanation as to why each composer has been considered major. Also included is a section about major women opera composers, compiled from the same lists. For an introduction to operatic history, see Opera. The organisation of the list is by birthdate.



  • Jacopo Peri (1561–1633). A Florentine who composed both the first opera ever, Dafne (1598), and the first surviving opera, Euridice (1600).[1]
  • Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643) is generally regarded as the first major opera composer.[2] In Orfeo (1607) he blended Peri's experiments in opera with the lavish spectacle of the intermedi.[3] Later, in Venice in the 1640s, he helped make opera a commercially viable form with Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria and L'incoronazione di Poppea, one of the earliest operas in the present-day operatic repertoire..
  • Francesco Cavalli (1602–1676). Amongst the most important of Monteverdi's successors, Cavalli was a major force in spreading opera throughout Italy and also helped introduce it to France. His Giasone was " the most popular opera of the 17th century".[4]
  • Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632–1687). In close collaboration with the librettist Philippe Quinault, Lully founded the tradition of tragédie en musique,[5] combining singing, dance and visual spectacle, which would remain the most prestigious French operatic genre for almost a hundred years.
  • Henry Purcell (1659–1695). Purcell was the first English operatic composer of significance. His masterwork is Dido and Aeneas.[6]
  • Alessandro Scarlatti (1660–1725). A key figure in the development of opera seria, Scarlatti claimed to have composed over 100 operas, of which La Griselda is a notable example.[7]
  • Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683–1764) was the most important French opera composer of the 18th century. Following in the genre established by Lully,[8] he endowed his works with a great richness of invention. Rameau's musical daring provoked great controversy in his day,[8] but he was an important influence on Gluck.
  • John Gay (1685–1732) and Johann Christoph Pepusch (1667–1752). Creators of the first English ballad opera, the biting political satire, The Beggar's Opera.[9]
  • George Frideric Handel (1685–1759). Handel's baroque-era opera serias set the standard in his day.[10] Despite the often stifling conventions of opera seria, Handel composed a series of over 30 operas that continue to fascinate audiences today. His masterwork is generally thought to be Giulio Cesare.

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