High energy 1710 – 1830: bravura arias
Baroque opera, being a finely tuned machinery, has a bunch of well established conventions. The mother of all Baroque arias is the entrance aria, which had to be over the top so as to present the diva or divo in all her/his vocal splendor from the get-go. One of the most enjoyable subdivisions of the entrance aria is the bravura aria, in which the hero pumps his fist/chest, boasting about his great deeds. This Itself has a number of subdivisions, my favourite of which is the summoning aria, when the hero, or the villain, summons the powers of good or evil to his/her aid. You might remember Rinaldo’s Venti, turbini, Serse’s Crude furie or Armida’s Furie teribili. As you can see, furies are prime hellish mercenaries, eager to do the bidding of highest bidders. The elements, such as winds and tornadoes, can be convinced to cooperate as well.
Bravura arias morphed a tad during the Classical period. We have great examples such as Orphee’s Amour viens rendre a mon ame (in all its incarntations) – a pumping yourself up aria – and Elettra’s D’Oreste, d’Ajace – an anger venting aria and even Queen of the Night’s Der Holle Rache, by its sheer aggressiveness through sound (ie, I will crush you with my top notes).
Although they slowed down, bravura arias survived into the 19th century. They still maintained the panache of show-off coloratura and general air of bravado. One famous aria which is clearly bravura is Figaro’s Largo al factotum, pretty much an advert for Figaro Inc., the best hair salon in Siviglia. Then there’s Romeo’s La tremenda ultrice spada, which is a platform for our still wet-behind-the-ears hero to shout fuck off to a hall full of Capuleti (there’s a lot of bad language in that opera).