'Opera', to an audience in the 1720s, meant the Italian opera which had first appeared in London in 1705 and which had been much in vogue ever since. Songs, of course, had been common on the English stage since Tudor times, and by the latter part of the seventeenth century plays containing within them masque-scenes in which the dialogue was sung rather than spoken had become fashionable and were called operas. The Italian opera took this development further and eliminated spoken dialogue altogether, the passages between the various arias being carried on in recitative [...] no amount of ridicule could dent the popularity of the form - seventy-five years after its first appearance in England, Dr Johnson was to write resignedly of Italian opera as 'an exotick and irrational entertainment, which has always been combated and always has prevailed'.Which is by way of introduction, though admittedly much space opera, especially on film, can be considered as trivial and absurd as contemporary issues of The Spectator thought the newly-arrived Italian opera. But here's the relevant part:
As well as being musically novel, the Italian operas [...] were remarkable for the sumptuousness of the costumes and the sophistication of the stage machinery. The libretto of Handel's very popular opera Rinaldo (1711), for example, requires the heroine to be carried through the air in Act I in a 'Chariot drawn by two huge Dragons, out of whose mouths issue Fire and Smoke', while Act II calls for waterfalls as well as 'Thunder, Lightning, and amazing Noises'. With so much spectacle to engage its attention, the audience at an opera was unlikely to concern itself greatly with the details of the plot, which was in nearly every case if not manifestly absurd at least considerably remote from the concerns of the everyday.Was the newly-formed equivalent of ILM involved in creating the special effects? I'd guess so. Finally, as proof that the star system (forgive the pun) is nothing new:
It was not the plots but the spectacle and, above all, the singers that brought fashionable London to the Italian opera [...] In 1721 the great castrato Senesino was lured to London and in 1723 he was joined by the famous soprano Francesca Cuzzoni; both were paid what was in those days the fabulous sum of £2,000 for the season.Though presumably the London audience never had the egregious Jar-Jar Binks inflicted on it. The extracts are from Bryan Loughrey and T.O. Treadwell's introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of The Beggar's Opera.