In the seventeenth century, and even later, was sometimes synonymous with melodrama or opera seria. But a more precise meaning was assumed by the term after Wagnerian theorization of the concepts of opera and drama. Opera is characterized by the distinction (customary at the time of Wagner) between recitatives and arias, duets, concerted; by the presence, in short, of “closed pieces” in which the reasons of the text had to adapt to those of the music and in a certain sense suffer them.
The relationship was reversed in the musical drama theorized by Wagner, in which it was up to the text to condition the musical form, freed from the demands of the “closed piece”. After Wagner, many composers avoided the closed forms of opera in their musical theater (Strauss, Debussy, Verdi in Falstaff and many others), without their works being able to qualify as drama in the Wagnerian sense.
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