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In seventeenth century Italy, a group of scholars, composers and performers broke away from the polyphonic structure of music favored during the Renaissance and instead wrote music for one singer. These explorations eventually led to an incredibly rich, formal style of music that would match every other art form in importance and popularity in its day. In opera, Italian for "works," a story is told through song: singers play characters, and performances are staged as in theater. Claudio Monteverdi was the first significant opera composer, bringing the myth of Orpheus to life in his first major work, Orfeo. Other composers picked up where he left off, and branched out from the traditional Italian libretto (or lyrics) into German, French, and eventually English. Opera also includes bel canto, a florid, beautiful offshoot developed by early Italian composers including Bellini in the eighteenth century, in which the voice is treated more like an instrument than a transmitter of information. Opera later spread across the western world, championed by works such as Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata, Richard Wagner's Der Ring Des Nibelungen, and Englishman Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd.

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