Hi class,

Just wanted to share a couple more examples of the difference between recitative and aria. During the early Baroque era (what we’ve been listening to so far) the distinction between these two singing styles is not always super clear, but this becomes much clearer as the 18th century begins and the styles become more clearly delineated. Here are two examples, both from around the 1730s, that I think might help clarify these two singing styles better.

Pergolesi, La Serva Padrona (1733)

The lead female (Serpina) and male (Uberto) characters in this comic opera (or opera buffa as it’s known) begin this scene with a long-ish recitative, which then turns into an aria at 1:39. Note how the recitative is accompanied by just the basso continuo, in this case played by the solo harpsichord, but the aria has full orchestral accompaniment with strings in addition to harpsichord.

Handel, Messiah (1741)

This is from Handel’s oratorio Messiah. An oratorio is an unstaged opera, and they are often sacred (because it would be inappropriate to set a sacred text within  the worldly and lascivious genre of opera). The story here is the life of Christ, which is why Messiah is still performed all over the world around Christmas (and its most famous number, the “Hallelujah” chorus, is one of the world’s most well known classical works). This is in English, so you can really get a feel for how the rhythms follow English speech patterns.

The first part, “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened,” is a recitative that uses Biblical text from the Book of Isaiah. The second part (beginning around 0:28) is an aria, “He shall feed his flock,” which combines words from a variety of Biblical sources. The text is below the video.

Recitative:

Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing. (Isaiah 35: 5-6)

Aria:

He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; and He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:11)

Come unto Him, all ye that labour, come unto Him that are heavy laden, and He will give you rest.
Take his yoke upon you, and learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (Matthew 11: 28-29)