In opera or commedia dell'arte, a prima donna ( [ˈpriːma ˈdɔnna] ; plural: prime donne; Italian for "first lady") is the leading female singer in the company, the person to whom the prime roles would be given.
Prime donne often had grand off-stage personalities and were seen as demanding of their colleagues. From its original usage in opera, the term has spread in contemporary usage to refer to anyone behaving in a demanding or temperamental fashion or having an inflated view of oneself and a narcissistic attitude.
The prima donnas in opera was normally, but not necessarily, a soprano. The corresponding term for the male lead (usually a castrato in the 17th and 18th centuries, later a tenor) is primo uomo.
In 19th-century Italy, the leading woman in an opera or Commedia dell'arte company was known as the prima donna, literally the "first lady". This woman, usually the principal soprano of the company, would typically perform leading roles and generally sang more music than other women in the company.Famous opera prime donne have often caused opera enthusiasts to divide into opposing "clubs" supporting one singer over another. The rivalry between the fans of Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi, for example, was one of the most famous, despite the friendship of the two singers.
The designation prima donna assoluta (absolute first lady) is occasionally applied to a prima donna of outstanding excellence.It has also been used to describe the creators of heroic coloratura roles in the first half of the 19th century.
The female who sang the second major part in an opera was, correspondingly, referred to as the seconda donna; by the late 18th century, this role was sometimes called the altra prima donna.
At times, these prime donne (the Italian plural form) were grand with their off-stage personalities and demands on fellow troupe members, musicians, set and wardrobe designers, producers and other staff, but were deferentially tolerated because of their consummate talent and their draw at the box office. From this experience, the term prima donna has come into common usage in any field denoting someone who behaves in a demanding, often temperamental fashion, revealing an inflated view of themselves, their talent, and their importance.Due to this association, the contemporary meaning of the word has taken on this negative connotation of a vain, undisciplined, egotistical, obnoxious or temperamental person who finds it difficult to work under direction or as part of a team, but whose contributions are essential to the success of a team.
Harlequin is the best-known of the zanni or comic servant characters from the Italian commedia dell'arte. The role is traditionally believed to have been introduced by Zan Ganassa in the late 16th century, was definitively popularized by the Italian actor Tristano Martinelli in Paris in 1584–1585, and became a stock character after Martinelli's death in 1630.
Opera buffa is a genre of opera. It was first used as an informal description of Italian comic operas variously classified by their authors as commedia in musica, commedia per musica, dramma bernesco, dramma comico, divertimento giocoso.
Maria Callas was an American-born Greek soprano who was one of the most renowned and influential opera singers of the 20th century. Many critics praised her bel canto technique, wide-ranging voice and dramatic interpretations. Her repertoire ranged from classical opera seria to the bel canto operas of Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini and, further, to the works of Verdi and Puccini; and, in her early career, to the music dramas of Wagner. Her musical and dramatic talents led to her being hailed as La Divina.
A diva is the Latin word for a goddess and can also refer to a celebrated female singer; a woman of outstanding talent in the world of opera, and by extension in theatre, cinema and popular music. If referring to an actress the meaning of diva is closely related to that of prima donna. Diva can also refer to a woman, especially one in show business, with a reputation for being temperamental or demanding.
Gaspare Luigi Pacifico Spontini was an Italian opera composer and conductor.
Carlo, Count Gozzi was a Venetian playwright and champion of Commedia dell'arte.
Dame Joan Alston Sutherland, was an Australian dramatic coloratura soprano noted for her contribution to the renaissance of the bel canto repertoire from the late 1950s through to the 1980s.
Mary Violet Leontyne Price is an American soprano who was the first African American soprano to receive international acclaim. From 1961 she began a long association with the Metropolitan Opera, where she was the first African American to be a leading performer. She regularly appeared at the world's major opera houses, the Royal Opera House, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and La Scala, the latter of which she was also the first African American to sing a leading role. She was particularly renowned for her performances of the title role in Verdi's Aida.
Isabella Andreini, also known as Isabella Da Padova, was an Italian actress and writer. Considered beautiful, elegant, and well educated, she was one of the most famous performers of her time. Isabella Andreini was a member of the Compagnia dei Comici Gelosi, an influential touring theatre company that performed for the highest social circles of Italy and France. Famous in her time, and distinguished both for her acting and her character, the role of Isabella of the commedia dell'arte was named after her.
Leopoldine Rysanek was an Austrian dramatic soprano.
A soubrette is a type of operatic soprano voice fach, often cast as a female stock character in opera and theatre. The term arrived in English from Provençal via French, and means "conceited" or "coy". A soubrette is also defined as a young woman regarded as flirtatious or frivolous.
Travesti is a theatrical term referring to the portrayal of a character in an opera, play, or ballet by a performer of the opposite sex.
Betty Drina Fretwell, known professionally as Elizabeth Fretwell, was an Australian soprano. She was the prima donna at London's Sadler's Wells Opera through much of the 1950s and 1960s.
Soprano sfogato is a contralto or mezzo-soprano who is capable—by sheer industry or natural talent—of extending their upper range and being able to encompass the coloratura soprano tessitura. An upwardly extended "natural" soprano is sometimes called soprano assoluto.
L'Orfeide is an opera composed by Gian Francesco Malipiero who also wrote the Italian libretto, partly based on the myth of Orpheus and incorporating texts by Italian Renaissance poets. The work consists of three parts – La morte delle maschere, Sette canzoni, and Orfeo, ovvero L'ottava canzone. It received its first complete performance on 5 November 1925 at the Stadttheater in Düsseldorf.
Commedia dell'arte was an early form of professional theatre, originating from Italy, that was popular in Europe from the 16th to the 18th century. Commedia dell'arte was formerly called Italian comedy in English and is also known as commedia alla maschera, commedia improvviso, and commedia dell'arte all'improvviso. Commedia is a form of theatre characterized by masked "types" which began in Italy in the 16th century and was responsible for the advent of actresses and improvised performances based on sketches or scenarios. A commedia, such as The Tooth Puller, is both scripted and improvised. Characters' entrances and exits are scripted. A special characteristic of commedia dell'arte are the lazzi. A lazzo is a joke or "something foolish or witty", usually well known to the performers and to some extent a scripted routine. Another characteristic of commedia dell'arte is pantomime, which is mostly used by the character Arlecchino (Harlequin).
Inez Fabbri, née Agnes Schmidt, was an Austrian American soprano, voice teacher and impresaria. She sang in Austria, Germany, England, South America and the Caribbean, making her home in San Francisco where, in the 1870s, she was the most important musical personality and prima donna assoluta of her time, performing in more than 150 concerts and operas from 1872 to 1879, producing operas, and teaching voice to up-and-coming singers.
An insertion aria is an aria sung in an opera for which it was not composed. It was a practice that began in the seventeenth century and continued actively through the late 19th century and sporadically through the 20th century. The insertion aria could replace an existing aria, or might be added to an opera. All insertions were planned in advance. They might be composed by the same composer of the opera, or might have been written by a different composer, with or without the knowledge of the opera's composer. Most insertions were of arias; infrequently non-operatic songs were inserted. Insertions could consist of arias, duets, ensembles, even entire scenes. Although men and women singers used insertion, women are the ones most remembered for the practice. The years 1800–1840 represent the apex of influence that women singers exerted over the operatic stage, influencing most aspects of opera performances, including insertions.
Virginia Ramponi-Andreini, also known by her stage name "La Florinda" was a celebrated Italian actress and singer. She was known for her performances in commedia dell'arte plays, many of them written for her by her husband Giambattista Andreini, and for having created the title role in Claudio Monteverdi's lost opera L'Arianna. She was born in Northern Italy in either Milan or Genoa. The exact date and place of her death are unknown.
Prima Donna: A Symphonic Visual Concert is a music and visual concert inspired by American-Canadian singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright's 2009 opera Prima Donna. The two-part program features a concert adaptation of the opera accompanied by a film directed by Francesco Vezzoli, produced by Petite Maison Production and featuring Cindy Sherman, followed by a performance of Wainwright singing well-known songs from his repertoire.
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