Chamber opera
Chamber opera is a designation for opera
Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance...

s written to be performed with a chamber ensemble rather than a full orchestra
An orchestra is a sizable instrumental ensemble that contains sections of string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. The term orchestra derives from the Greek ορχήστρα, the name for the area in front of an ancient Greek stage reserved for the Greek chorus...


The term and form were invented by Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten
Edward Benjamin Britten, Baron Britten, OM CH was an English composer, conductor, and pianist. He showed talent from an early age, and first came to public attention with the a cappella choral work A Boy Was Born in 1934. With the premiere of his opera Peter Grimes in 1945, he leapt to...

 in the 1940s, when the English Opera Group
English Opera Group
The English Opera Group was a small company of British musicians formed in 1947 by the composer Benjamin Britten for the purpose of presenting his and other, primarily British, composers' operatic works. The group later expanded in order to present larger-scale works, and was renamed the English...

 needed works that could easily be taken on tour and performed in a variety of small performance spaces. The Rape of Lucretia
The Rape of Lucretia (opera)
The Rape of Lucretia is an opera in two acts by Benjamin Britten, written for Kathleen Ferrier, who performed the title role. Ronald Duncan based his English libretto on André Obey's play Le Viol de Lucrèce.-Performance history:...

was the first example of the genre, and Britten followed it with Albert Herring
Albert Herring
Albert Herring, Op. 39, is a chamber opera in three acts by Benjamin Britten.Composed in the winter of 1946 and the spring of 1947, this comic opera was a successor to his serious opera The Rape of Lucretia...

, The Turn of the Screw
The Turn of the Screw (opera)
The Turn of the Screw is a 20th century English chamber opera composed by Benjamin Britten with a libretto by Myfanwy Piper, "wife of the artist John Piper, who had been a friend of the composer since 1935 and had provided designs for several of the operas". The libretto is based on the novella...

and Curlew River
Curlew River
Curlew River — A Parable for Church Performance is the first of three Church Parables by Benjamin Britten. The work is based on the Japanese noh play Sumidagawa of Juro Motomasa , which Britten saw during a visit to Japan and the Far East in early 1956...

. Other composers, including Hans Werner Henze
Hans Werner Henze
Hans Werner Henze is a German composer of prodigious output best known for "his consistent cultivation of music for the theatre throughout his life"...

, Harrison Birtwistle
Harrison Birtwistle
Sir Harrison Paul Birtwistle CH is a British contemporary composer.-Life:Birtwistle was born in Accrington, a mill town in Lancashire some 20 miles north of Manchester. His interest in music was encouraged by his mother, who bought him a clarinet when he was seven, and arranged for him to have...

, Thomas Adès
Thomas Adès
Thomas Adès is a British composer, pianist and conductor.-Biography:Adès studied piano with Paul Berkowitz and later composition with Robert Saxton at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London...

, George Benjamin
George Benjamin (composer)
George William John Benjamin, CBE is a British composer of classical music. He is also a conductor, pianist and teacher....

 and Philip Glass
Philip Glass
Philip Glass is an American composer. He is considered to be one of the most influential composers of the late 20th century and is widely acknowledged as a composer who has brought art music to the public .His music is often described as minimalist, along with...

, have since adopted the term for their own works.

Instrumentation for a chamber opera will vary: Britten scored The Rape of Lucretia
The Rape of Lucretia (opera)
The Rape of Lucretia is an opera in two acts by Benjamin Britten, written for Kathleen Ferrier, who performed the title role. Ronald Duncan based his English libretto on André Obey's play Le Viol de Lucrèce.-Performance history:...

for eight singers with single strings and wind with piano, harp and percussion. Matthew King
Matthew King (composer)
Matthew King is a British composer and pianist. His works include opera, piano and chamber music, choral and orchestral pieces.-Career:...

's The Snow Queen has three singers in multiple roles, with an ensemble of seven players while Judith Weir
Judith Weir
Judith Weir CBE, is a British composer.-Biography:Her music has been appreciated by audiences and critics alike. She trained with John Tavener while still at school and subsequently with Robin Holloway at King's College, Cambridge, graduating in 1976...

's King Harald's Saga is for a single soprano voice.

The term chamber opera is also sometimes used to describe smaller Baroque
Baroque music
Baroque music describes a style of Western Classical music approximately extending from 1600 to 1760. This era follows the Renaissance and was followed in turn by the Classical era...

 operatic works such as Pergolesi
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi was an Italian composer, violinist and organist.-Biography:Born at Iesi, Pergolesi studied music there under a local musician, Francesco Santini, before going to Naples in 1725, where he studied under Gaetano Greco and Francesco Feo among others...

's La serva padrona
La serva padrona
La serva padrona is an opera buffa by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi to a libretto by Gennaro Antonio Federico, after the play by Jacopo Angello Nelli. The opera is only 45 minutes long and was originally performed as an intermezzo between the acts of a larger serious opera...

and Charpentier
Marc-Antoine Charpentier
Marc-Antoine Charpentier, , was a French composer of the Baroque era.Exceptionally prolific and versatile, he produced compositions of the highest quality in several genres...

's Les Arts florissants
Les Arts florissants (opera)
Les arts florissants is a short chamber opera in five scenes by Marc-Antoine Charpentier.-History:...

, which also use small instrumental and vocal ensembles.

See also

List of chamber operas
  • Chamber Made Opera, Australian production house
  • City Opera of Vancouver
    City Opera of Vancouver
    City Opera of Vancouver is a professional chamber opera company founded in 2005. It was the lead company in efforts to restore Vancouver's Pantages Theatre, built by Alexander Pantages in 1907. The 650 seat building was considered to be the oldest remaining vaudeville theatre in Canada...

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