Niche it!
BobbyGs Info

GameStop, Inc.

Comic opera

Music Sound

Comic opera

Back | Home | Up | Next

Comic opera, or light opera, is a genre of opera denoting a sung dramatic work of a light or comic nature, usually with a happy ending, and often employing spoken dialogue interspersed with detached musical numbers.

Comic opera, or opera buffa, developed in 18th-century Italy as an alternative to opera seria. It quickly made its way to France, where it became opéra comique, or opéra bouffe, and finally French operetta, with Jacques Offenbach as its most accomplished practitioner.

Both the Italian and French forms were major artistic exports to other parts of Europe. Many countries developed their own styles of comic opera, incorporating the Italian and French models along with their own musical traditions. Examples include Viennese operetta, German singspiel, Spanish zarzuela, English ballad opera and Savoy Opera.


Italian comic opera

In 18th-century Italy, light-hearted musical plays began to be offered as an alternative to weightier opera seria (17th-century opera based on classical mythology) in Naples around the year 1700. The first comic opera of note was Alessandro Scarlatti's Il Trionfo dell'onore (1718). Early comic opera was often in Neapolitan dialect, but became "Italianized" during with the works of Pergolesi (La Serva Padrona), Piccinni (La Cecchina), Cimarosa (Il Matrimonio Secreto), and then to the great comic operas of Mozart and, later, Rossini.

The early comic operas were generally presented as intermezzos between acts of more serious works. Neapolitan and then Italian comic opera grew into an independent form and became the most popular form of staged entertainment in Italy from about 1750 to 1800. In 1749, thirteen years after Pergolesi's death, his La Serva Padrona swept Italy and France, evoking the praise of such French Enlightenment luminaries as Rousseau.

In 1760, Niccolò Piccinni wrote the music to La Cecchina to a text by the great Venetian playwright, Carlo Goldoni. That text was based on Samuel Richardson's popular English novel, Pamela or Virtue Rewarded (1740). Many years later, Verdi called La Cecchina the "first true Italian comic opera" – that is to say, it had everything: it was in Italian and not a dialect; it was no longer simply an intermezzo, but rather an independent piece; it had a real story that people liked; it had dramatic variety; and, musically, it had strong melodies and even strong supporting orchestral parts, including a strong "stand-alone" overture (i.e., you could even enjoy the overture as an independent orchestral piece). Verdi was also enthusiastic because the music was by a southern Italian and the text by a northerner, which appealed to Verdi's pan-Italian vision.

French comic opera

French composers eagerly seized upon the Italian model and made it their own, calling it opéra comique. Early proponents included François-Adrien Boïeldieu (1775–1834), Daniel François Auber (1782–1871) and Adolphe Adam (1803–1856). Although originally reserved for less serious works, the term opéra comique came to refer to any opera that included spoken dialogue, including works such as Bizet's Carmen that are not "comic" in any sense of the word.

Florimond Hervé (1825–1892) is credited as the inventor of French opéra bouffe, or opérette. [1]. Working on the same model, Jacques Offenbach (1819–1880 quickly surpassed him, writing over ninety operettas. Whereas earlier French comic operas had a mixture of sentiment and humour, Offenbach's works were intended solely to amuse. Though generally well crafted, plots and characters in his works were often interchangeable. Given the frenetic pace at which he worked, Offenbach sometimes used the same material in more than one opera.

German singspiel and Viennese operetta

The singspiel developed in 18th-century Vienna and spread throughout Austria and Germany. As in the French opéra comique, the singspiel was an opera with spoken dialogue, and usually a comic subject, such as Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio (1782). Later singspiels, such as Beethoven's Fidelio and Weber's Der Freischütz, retained the form, but explored more serious subjects

19th-century Viennese operetta was built on both the singspiel and the French model. Franz von Suppé (1819–1895) is remembered mainly for his overtures. Johann Strauss II (1825–1899), the "waltz king," contributed Die Fledermaus and The Gypsy Baron; Franz Lehár (1870–1948) wrote The Merry Widow; and Oscar Straus (1870–1954) supplied Ein Walzertraum (A Waltz Dream) and The Chocolate Soldier.

English light opera

England traces its light opera tradition to the ballad opera, typically a comic play that incorporated songs set to popular tunes. John Gay's The Beggar's Opera was the earliest and most popular of these. Richard Brinsley Sheridan's La Duenna (1775), with a score by Thomas Linley, was expressly described as "A comic opera." [2]

By the 19th century, the London musical stage was dominated by pantomime and burlesque. An 1867 production of Offenbach's The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein (seven months after its French première) ignited the English appetite for light operas with more carefully crafted librettos and scores.

In 1875, Richard D'Oyly Carte commissioned W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan to write a short one-act opera that would serve as an afterpiece to Offenbach's La Périchole. The result was Trial by Jury; its success launched the Gilbert and Sullivan partnership. "Mr. R. D'Oyly Carte's Opera Bouffe Company" took Trial on tour, playing it alongside French works by Offenbach and Lecocq.

Eager to liberate the English stage from French influences, Carte formed a syndicate in 1877 to perform "light opera of a legitimate kind." [3] Gilbert and Sullivan were commissioned to write a new comic opera, The Sorcerer, starting the series that came to be known as the Savoy Operas (after the Savoy Theatre, which Carte built for them). The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company continued to perform Gilbert and Sullivan more-or-less continuously until it closed in 1982.

The Gilbert and Sullivan style was widely imitated by their contemporaries, and the creators themselves wrote works in this style with other collaborators. Those other works, however, eventually fell out of favor, leaving the Savoy Operas as practically the sole surviving representatives of the genre.

American operetta

In America, Victor Herbert (1859–1924) was one of the first to pick up the style that Gilbert and Sullivan had made popular. His earliest pieces, starting with Prince Ananias in 1894, were styled "comic operas." Later works were described as "musical extravaganza," "musical comedy," "musical play," "musical farce," and even "opera comique." His two most successful pieces were Babes in Toyland (1903) and Naughty Marietta (1910) [4]

Others who wrote in a similar style included Reginald de Koven (1859–1920) and the march king, John Philip Sousa (1854–1932). From these beginnings, the American musical comedy developed, with works like Showboat that explored more serious subjects, and featured a tighter integration between book and lyrics.

Home | Up | Operetta | Bel canto | Comic opera | Grand Opera | Opera ballet | Opera buffa | Opera seria | Singspiel

Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.