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List of major opera composers

This list provides a guide to opera composers, as determined by their presence on a majority of compiled lists of significant opera composers. (See the "Lists Consulted" section for full details.) The composers run from Jacopo Peri, who wrote the first ever opera in late 16th century Italy, to John Adams, one of the leading figures in the contemporary operatic world. The brief accompanying notes offer an explanation as to why each composer has been considered major. Also included is a section about major women opera composers, compiled from the same lists. For an introduction to operatic history, see opera. The organisation of the list is by birthdate.

Major opera composers


Jacopo Peri as Arion in La pellegrina


Gluck in a 1775 portrait by Joseph Duplessis.


Giuseppe Verdi, by Giovanni Boldini, 1886 (National Gallery of Modern Art, Rome)


Giacomo Puccini


Female opera composers

Drawing of Ethel Smith by John Singer Sargent, 1901

A number of reasons, including the high cost of production and high status of opera,[75] have been suggested to explain the relatively few women who have been composers of opera, and no woman composer met the criteria for inclusion above. However, some experts in our sample disagreed,[76] and named either or both of the women below as comparable to those already listed:

  • Shafiga Akhundova (21 January 1924 – 26 July 2013) was a prominent Azerbaijani composer, the first professional female author of an opera in the East and People’s Artist of Azerbaijan.

Other notable women opera composers include Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Lori Laitman, Missy Mazzoli, Rachel Portman, and Olga Neuwirth.

See also



  1. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 768
  2. ^ Orrey p. 18
  3. ^ Professor Tim Carter in Viking Opera Guide (p. 678) writes: "Monteverdi's recitative owes much to Peri ... However Orfeo has much broader roots. There are many references to the tradition of the Florentine intermedi: the spectacular stage effects, the mythological subject matter, the allegorical figures, the number and scoring of the instruments and the extended choruses". See also Carter, writing about the intermedi in The Oxford Illustrated History of Opera (p. 4): "rich display and erudite symbolism made the intermedi an ideal projection of princely magnificence".
  4. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 189
  5. ^ Orrey p. 35
  6. ^ Orrey p. 55
  7. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 942
  8. ^ a b Orrey p. 40
  9. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 343
  10. ^ Orrey p. 59
  11. ^ Oxford Companion to Music, p. 783
  12. ^ Orrey p. 85
  13. ^ Manual of Music: Its History, Biography and Literature Page 96 Wilber M. Derthick · 1888
  14. ^ Viking Opera Guide pp. 216–218
  15. ^ Orrey p. 101
  16. ^ Jane Schatkin Hettrick, John A. Rice. "Salieri, Antonio" in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
  17. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 210
  18. ^ Orrey p. 139
  19. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 1002
  20. ^ Viking Opera Guide pp. 37–38
  21. ^ Orrey p. 140
  22. ^ Oxford Illustrated History of Opera pp. 146–150
  23. ^ a b Britannica p. 631 C.2
  24. ^ A. Dean Palmer. "Marschner, Heinrich August" in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
  25. ^ Orrey p. 134
  26. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 412
  27. ^ Orrey pp. 129–133
  28. ^ Orrey p. 153
  29. ^ a b Orrey p. 154
  30. ^ Orrey p. 180
  31. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 1098.
  32. ^ Orrey pp. 168–169
  33. ^ Orrey pp. 137–147
  34. ^ Britannica p. 633 C.1
  35. ^ Orrey p. 177
  36. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 134
  37. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 929. Viking says Saint-Saëns wrote 13 operas, including his part in an unfinished work by Guiraud and two opéra comiques.
  38. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 253.
  39. ^ Orrey pp. 156–157
  40. ^ a b Britannica p. 637 C.2
  41. ^ Orrey p. 182
  42. ^ David Brown (author of the four-volume Tchaikovsky: A Biographical and Critical Study, Gollancz, 1978–91) in Viking Opera Guide, pp. 1083–1095
  43. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 197
  44. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 302
  45. ^ Orrey p. 156
  46. ^ Graham Dixon in Viking Opera Guide, p. 622
  47. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 864
  48. ^ Britannica p. 638 C.2
  49. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 563
  50. ^ a b Orrey p. 225
  51. ^ Viking Opera Guide pp. 202–204
  52. ^ Orrey p. 216
  53. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 617
  54. ^ Orrey p. 213
  55. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 772
  56. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 952
  57. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 848
  58. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 958
  59. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 55
  60. ^ Orrey p. 220
  61. ^ "Alban Berg". Composers online. W. W. Norton & Company. Archived from the original on 2006-05-30. Retrieved 2006-09-10.
  62. ^ Britannica p. 637 C.1
  63. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 467
  64. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 348
  65. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 1207
  66. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 1102
  67. ^ Orrey p. 232
  68. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 51
  69. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 648
  70. ^ Orrey p. 234
  71. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 461
  72. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 243
  73. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 360
  74. ^ Viking Opera Guide p. 17
  75. ^ See, e.g. Review of Women Writing Opera: Creativity and Controversy in the Age of the French Revolution. by Katherine Kolb
  76. ^ See #Lists consulted
  77. ^ Alexander and Savino (1997) p. 20


Lists consulted

This list was compiled by consulting ten lists of great opera composers, created by recognized authorities in the field of opera, and selecting all of the composers who appeared on at least six of these (i.e. all composers on a majority of the lists). Judith Weir appears on four of the ten lists consulted, more than any other female composer in the sample. The lists used were:

  1. "Graeme Kay's Guide to Opera, produced for the BBC".
  2. "The "Opera" Encyclopædia Britannica article".
  3. "Opera," in Columbia Encyclopedia online". Archived from the original on October 5, 2009.
  4. Composers mentioned in Nicholas Kenyon's introduction to the Viking Opera Guide (1993 edition) ISBN 0-670-81292-7.
  5. "The Standard Repertoire of Grand Opera 1607–1969", a list included in Norman Davies's Europe: a History (OUP, 1996; paperback edition Pimlico, 1997) ISBN 0-7126-6633-8.
  6. Composers mentioned in the chronology by Mary Ann Smart in The Oxford Illustrated History of Opera (OUP, 1994) ISBN 0-19-816282-0.
  7. "A Bird's Eye View of the World's Chief Opera Composers" in The Oxford Companion to Music by Percy Scholes (10th edition revised by John Owen Ward, 1970). ISBN 0-19-311306-6.
  8. Composers with recordings included in The Penguin Guide to Opera on Compact Discs ed. Greenfield, March and Layton (1993 edition) ISBN 0-14-046957-5.
  9. The New Kobbe's Opera Book, ed. Lord Harewood (1997 edition) ISBN 0-399-14332-7.
  10. "Table of Contents of The Rough Guide to Opera". Amazon UK. by Matthew Boyden. (2002 edition) ISBN 1-85828-749-9.


  • The composers included in all 10 lists cited are: Berg, Britten, Donizetti, Gluck, Handel, Monteverdi, Mozart, Puccini, Rameau, Rossini, Richard Strauss, Verdi, and Wagner.
  • The composers included in nine of the lists are: Bellini, Berlioz, Bizet, Glinka, Gounod, Lully, Massenet, Mussorgsky, and Tchaikovsky.
  • The composers included in eight of the lists are: Adams, Debussy, Glass, Henze, Janáček, Leoncavallo, Menotti, Meyerbeer, Pergolesi, Purcell, Rimsky-Korsakov, Schoenberg, Smetana, Thomas (Ambroise), Tippett, and Weber.
  • The composers included in seven of the lists are: Auber, Beethoven, Borodin, Cavalli, Cherubini, Cimarosa, Delibes, Hindemith, Mascagni, Offenbach, Prokofiev, Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Shostakovich, and Gustave Charpentier.
  • The composers included in six of the lists are: Barber, Bartók, Chabrier, Peter Maxwell Davies, Dvořák, Gay and Pepusch, Gershwin, Halévy, Peri, Pfitzner, Scarlatti, Schreker, Spontini, Stravinsky, Walton.
  • Judith Weir was included in four lists; Dame Ethel Smyth in two.
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List of major opera composers
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