Born in Cremona in 1567, he served at the court of the Dukes of Mantua from the early 1590s until 1612, when he moved to Venice as maestro di cappella at the basilica of St. Mark. For the time it was one of the most coveted musical posts in Italy and is a position he retained until his death in 1643. His importance as a proponent of the so-called Stile moderno (modern style) is unquestioned, as is his pre-eminence in the development of the new form of opera that sprang from the combination of music and speech in the art of Italian monody.
In 1607, Monteverdi established himself as a composer of major works with his opera L'Orfeo, which is considered to be the first great opera. L'Orfeo is based on the legend of Orpheus, the musician who sought to bring his beloved Eurydice back from the Underworld by the power of music. L'Orfeo synthesized several important operatic elements: Instrumental Overture, Aria, Recitative, Ensemble, and Chorus.
After Orfeo, L'Arianna (Mantua, 1608) became one of the most influential operas in Europe. Wildly popular, the Lamento d'Arianna was admired and imitated by composers until the end of the century.
Two major works represent the culmination of Monteverdi's operatic output: Il Ritorno d'Ulise in Patria (The Return of Ulysses) (Venice, 1640), based on the final portion of Homer's Greek epic The Odyssey, and L'incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea)(Venice, 1642), set in imperial Rome in the time of Nero, whose love for the courtesan ...
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...avor of an English national style. Purcell, however, strongly resisted this trend, and, instead, he adopted Italian forms. In doing so, he established a foothold for opera in England, while simultaneously composing in all of the major genres. His operatic works include Dioclesian (1690), King Arthur (1691), The Fairy Queen (1692), and The Tempest (1695). His masterpiece Dido and Aeneas (1689), the story of a doomed love affair between Aeneas, the hero of Virgil's Aeneid, and Dido, the Queen of Carthage, was the first resounding public success in the history of English opera.
Dido's arias Thy hand, Belinda, and When I am laid in Earth are two of the most memorable moments in all of opera. Thy Hand Belinda is also a fine example of ground bass, a baroque technique whereby the composer repeats a melodic pattern in the bass continuously through the piece.
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