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Comic Opera in the 18th Century

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Chandler Carter

on 23 September 2016

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Transcript of Comic Opera in the 18th Century

Comic Opera in
the 18th Century

(literally "sing-play") a form of German-language music drama, now regarded as a genre of opera. It is characterized by spoken dialogue, which is alternated with ensembles, songs, ballads, and arias which were often strophic, or folk-like. Singspiel plots are generally comic or romantic in nature, and frequently include elements of magic, fantastical creatures, and comically exaggerated characterizations of good and evil. Early 18th-century Singspiele were often translations of English ballad operas and French opéras comiques.
a genre of English stage entertainment originating
in the 18th century. Its
distinguishing characteristic is
the use of tunes in a popular style (either pre-existing or newly composed) with spoken dialogue. These English plays were 'operas' mainly insofar as they satirized the conventions of the imported opera seria.
John Gay's "The Beggar's Opera" (1728)
Opéra Comique
a genre of French opera that contains spoken dialogue and arias. It emerged out of the popular "opéra comiques en vaudevilles" of the Fair Theatres of St Germain and St Laurent, which, like English ballad operas, combined existing popular tunes with spoken sections. In the middle of the 18th century, composers began to write original music to replace the vaudevilles under the influence of the lighter types of Italian opera, especially Pergolesi's La serva padrona. Associated with the Paris theatre of the same name, opéra comique is not always comic or light in nature — indeed, Bizet's Carmen, perhaps the most famous opéra comique, is a tragedy.
André Ernest Modeste Grétry,
the most famous composer of
opéra comique before
the French Revolution
The "Quarrel of the Comic Actors" was the name given to a battle between rival musical philosophies concerning the relative merits of French and Italian opera. It was sparked by the reaction of literary Paris to a performance of Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona by an itinerant Italian troupe of comic actors, known as "buffoni," at the Académie royale de musique in 1752. The work had already been given in Paris in 1746, but had attracted little notice. This time it provoked a full-scale war of words between the defenders of the French operatic tradition and the champions of Italian music. In the controversy that followed, critics such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Friedrich Grimm praised Italian opera buffa and attacked the French lyric tragedy, a style originated by Jean-Baptiste Lully and promoted among then-living composers like Jean-Philippe Rameau.
The Querelle
des Bouffons
Philosopher, writer and amateur composer Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Opera Buffa
"Comedy of craft" (shortened from "comedy of the craft of improvisation"): a form of theater characterized by masked "types" and improvised performances based on sketches or scenarios. The first recorded commedia dell'arte performances come from Rome as early as 1551. Commedia dell'arte was performed outdoors in temporary venues by masked professional actors, as opposed to commedia erudita, which were written comedies presented indoors by untrained (and unmasked) actors. The commedia dell'arte tradition also introduced for the first time female actors. Commedia dell'arte charcacter types and stock plots were an important source for 18th-century opere buffe.
Commedia dell'Arte
an informal description of Italian comic operas variously classified by their authors as "commedia in musica," "commedia per musica," etc. It is especially associated with developments in Naples in the first half of the 18th century, whence its popularity spread throughout Italy.
Opera buffa was at first characterized by everyday settings, local dialects, and simple vocal writing (the basso buffo is the associated voice type), the main requirement being clear diction and facility with patter (rapidly sung text). Unlike light operas
in other countries, opera buffa is sung
throughout, with secco recitative
rather than spoken dialogue.
A short opera buffa (only 45 minutes) originally performed as an intermezzo between the acts of Pergolesi's opera seria, Il prigionier superbo (The Proud Prisoner). Il prigioniero was unsuccessful in its day and eventually the two pieces were separated. La serva padrona went on to enjoy fame throughout Europe because of its presentation of characters — the cunning maid and her aging master — that were recognizable to any audience. The simple, but dramatically effective, style of La serva padrona can be heard as a bridge from the Baroque to the Classical period.
La Serva Padrona (1733)
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
libretto by Gennaro Antonio Federico
Serpina's aria (see The Story of Opera, 224 for translation)
Sonya Yoncheva, Serpina (13:05)
Final duet "Contento tu sarai"
Furio Zanasi, Uberto
The two non-singing comic actors in this production are typical of the slapstick commedia dell'arte style.
A venetian merchant
a Bolognese lawyer
2 servants from Bergamo
the love-sick clown
the clever female servant
Watteau's Italian Commedians (1718-19)
Commedia dell'arte Character Types
Harlequin and Brignella
Will you be content, Will you love me?
Content in my heart, And I love you.
SERPINA: Is this the truth?
UBERTO: This is the truth.
SERPINA: Oh God! I fear not.
UBERTO: Never doubt, Oibò!
SERPINA: Oh lovely husband!
UBERTO: My beloved little wife!
SERPINA: Like that I am joyful.
UBERTO: You alone give me joy.
one of the watershed plays in Augustan drama and is the only example of the once thriving genre of satirical ballad opera to remain popular today. The lyrics of the airs in the piece are set to popular broadsheet ballads, opera arias, church hymns and folk tunes of the time. The Beggar's Opera premiered at the Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre and ran for 62 consecutive performances, the longest run in theater history up to that time.
The Beggar's Opera (1728)
text by John Gay;
music arranged by Johann Christoph Pepusch
Trio, "Would I might be hang'd!"
(see Story of Opera, pp. 220-3)
From an early performance
of Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio (1781)
Full transcript