The University of Southampton

MUSI2121 Opera and Musical Theatre in Europe (1600-1750): The Birth of Multimedia Entertainment

Module Overview

This module introduces you to operatic and musical-theatrical entertainments produced in Italy, France, Spain and England between 1600 and 1750 and investigates the ways in which their multimedia nature functioned in these diverse milieu.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

The aims of this module are to: - Make you familiar with the multimedia nature of opera and musical theatre in Europe during the period 1600-1750 - Develop the necessary skills to analyse musical forms (recitative, aria, arioso, etc.), word-music relation, and the ways in which poetry and visual aspects contributed to the construction of musical-theatrical entertainment - Explore the role of opera and musical theatre in early modern European society and its relation to other art forms - Examine the ways in which spectacles of opera and musical theatre were produced, consumed and used as vehicles of social and political messages

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The main musical, textual, dramatic, and visual components of early modern European opera and musical theatre and the ways in which their socio-political contexts contributed to shaping them
  • The trajectory that brought opera and musical theatre from the court to commercial theatres and the main characteristics of the systems of patronage and of the open market
  • The ways in which opera was produced, the economic and social underpinnings behind its production, and its political function


Beginning with an overview of the main musical-theatrical genres of the period, you will go on to explore the social contexts in which they emerged, developed, and flourished, as well as the impact these environments had on their musical, textual, dramatic and visual components. You will follow the trajectories that brought private court entertainments to be exported and made available to larger audiences through the emergence of commercial theatres and the star system. Case studies tracing the transformations and consolidations of operatic and musical-theatrical conventions across Europe will include: from commedia dell’arte to opera in Italy; patronage, opera and musical theatre in the courts of Italy, France, Spain and England; the emergence of commercial theatres and the consolidation of conventions. Particular attention will be devoted to Handel’s activity in London, the public theatres, and the rising importance of the singer in the operatic marketplace.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include - Lectures - Class discussion - Sharing of ideas and materials via Blackboard and other electronic resources Learning activities include - A wide range of reading (certain books and articles will be required reading) - Study of selected librettos and musical scores - Study of selected video recordings - Individual research - Use of online resources to find newspaper articles and other material relating to the subjects being studied.

Independent Study126
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Burrows, Donald (1994). Handel. 

Rosand, Ellen (1991). Opera in Seventeenth-Century Venice: The Creation of a Genre. 

Stein, Louise (1993). Songs of Mortals, Dialogues of the Gods: Music and Theatre in Seventeenth-Century Spain. 

Carter, Tim and John Butt (2005). The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Music. 

Harris, Ellen T. ed. (1989). The Librettos of Handel’s Operas: A Collection of Seventy-One Librettos Documenting Handel’s Operatic Career. 13 vols. 

Anthony, James R. (1973). French Baroque Music from Beaujoyeulx to Rameau. 

LaRue, C. Steven (1995). Handel and His Singers: The Creation of the Royal Academy Operas, 1720–1728. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (1600 words) 40%
Essay  (2400 words) 60%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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