Pasta, pizza and opera - just three of Italy's gifts to the world. But while pasta may have originated in China and the Ancient Greeks appear to have had a form of pizza, there's no doubt that the origins of opera are thoroughly Italian. So as part of the BBC's focus on opera in 2010, Donald Macleod conducts a whistlestop tour through two centuries and more of Italian opera, from Monteverdi to Rossini.
Monday's programme starts with opera in its infancy, as Donald explores the origins of the form in the courtly entertainments of late-16th-century Florence, and we hear from the earliest true opera to have survived intact. Then Monteverdi comes on the scene and the infant's growth accelerates rapidly - we hear from the first operatic masterpiece, then from one of the first operas to offer a realistic portrayal of human relations and motivations. It's about Poppea, a courtesan who sleeps her way to the very top. Finally, a look at the two composers who more than any others dominated the genre in the immediate aftermath of Monteverdi - Francesco Cavalli and Antonio Cesti. They're hardly famous names today, but between them they produced the most popular operas of the entire 17th century.