Comic opera
Overview
 
Comic opera denotes a sung dramatic work of a light or comic nature, usually with a happy ending.

Forms of comic opera first developed in late 17th-century Italy. By the 1730s, a new operatic genre, opera buffa
Opera buffa
Opera buffa is a genre of opera. It was first used as an informal description of Italian comic operas variously classified by their authors as ‘commedia in musica’, ‘commedia per musica’, ‘dramma bernesco’, ‘dramma comico’, ‘divertimento giocoso' etc...

, emerged as an alternative to opera seria
Opera seria
Opera seria is an Italian musical term which refers to the noble and "serious" style of Italian opera that predominated in Europe from the 1710s to c. 1770...

. It quickly made its way to France, where it became opéra bouffon
Opéra bouffon
Opéra bouffon is the French term for the Italian genre of opera called opera buffa performed in 18th-century France, either in the original language or in French translation...

, and eventually, in the following century, French operetta
Operetta
Operetta is a genre of light opera, light in terms both of music and subject matter. It is also closely related, in English-language works, to forms of musical theatre.-Origins:...

, with Jacques Offenbach
Jacques Offenbach
Jacques Offenbach was a Prussian-born French composer, cellist and impresario. He is remembered for his nearly 100 operettas of the 1850s–1870s and his uncompleted opera The Tales of Hoffmann. He was a powerful influence on later composers of the operetta genre, particularly Johann Strauss, Jr....

 as its most accomplished practitioner.

The influence of the Italian and French forms spread to other parts of Europe.
Encyclopedia
Comic opera denotes a sung dramatic work of a light or comic nature, usually with a happy ending.

Forms of comic opera first developed in late 17th-century Italy. By the 1730s, a new operatic genre, opera buffa
Opera buffa
Opera buffa is a genre of opera. It was first used as an informal description of Italian comic operas variously classified by their authors as ‘commedia in musica’, ‘commedia per musica’, ‘dramma bernesco’, ‘dramma comico’, ‘divertimento giocoso' etc...

, emerged as an alternative to opera seria
Opera seria
Opera seria is an Italian musical term which refers to the noble and "serious" style of Italian opera that predominated in Europe from the 1710s to c. 1770...

. It quickly made its way to France, where it became opéra bouffon
Opéra bouffon
Opéra bouffon is the French term for the Italian genre of opera called opera buffa performed in 18th-century France, either in the original language or in French translation...

, and eventually, in the following century, French operetta
Operetta
Operetta is a genre of light opera, light in terms both of music and subject matter. It is also closely related, in English-language works, to forms of musical theatre.-Origins:...

, with Jacques Offenbach
Jacques Offenbach
Jacques Offenbach was a Prussian-born French composer, cellist and impresario. He is remembered for his nearly 100 operettas of the 1850s–1870s and his uncompleted opera The Tales of Hoffmann. He was a powerful influence on later composers of the operetta genre, particularly Johann Strauss, Jr....

 as its most accomplished practitioner.

The influence of the Italian and French forms spread to other parts of Europe. Many countries developed their own genres of comic opera, incorporating the Italian and French models along with their own musical traditions. Examples include Viennese operetta, German singspiel
Singspiel
A Singspiel is a form of German-language music drama, now regarded as a genre of opera...

, Spanish zarzuela
Zarzuela
Zarzuela is a Spanish lyric-dramatic genre that alternates between spoken and sung scenes, the latter incorporating operatic and popular song, as well as dance...

, Russian comic opera, English ballad opera
Ballad opera
The term ballad opera is used to refer to a genre of English stage entertainment originating in the 18th century and continuing to develop in the following century and later. There are many types of ballad opera...

, and Savoy Opera
Savoy opera
The Savoy Operas denote a style of comic opera that developed in Victorian England in the late 19th century, with W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan as the original and most successful practitioners. The name is derived from the Savoy Theatre, which impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte built to house...

.

Italian comic opera

In late 17th-century Italy, light-hearted musical plays began to be offered as an alternative to weightier opera seria (17th-century Italian opera based on classical mythology
Classical mythology
Classical mythology or Greco-Roman mythology is the cultural reception of myths from the ancient Greeks and Romans. Along with philosophy and political thought, mythology represents one of the major survivals of classical antiquity throughout later Western culture.Classical mythology has provided...

). Il Trespolo tutore
Il Trespolo tutore
Il Trespolo tutore is a comic opera in three acts by the Italian composer Alessandro Stradella with a libretto by Giovanni Cosimo Villifranchi. It was first performed at the Teatro Falcone, Genoa on 30 or 31 January, 1679...

(1679) by Alessandro Stradella
Alessandro Stradella
Alessandro Stradella was an Italian composer of the middle baroque. He enjoyed a dazzling career as a freelance composer, writing on commission, collaborating with distinguished poets, producing over three hundred works in a variety of genres.-Life:Not much is known about his early life, but he...

 (1639–1682) was an early precursor of opera buffa. The opera has a farcical plot, and the characters of the ridiculous guardian Trespolo and the maid Despina are prototypes of characters widely used later in the opera buffa genre.

The form began to flourish in Naples with Alessandro Scarlatti
Alessandro Scarlatti
Alessandro Scarlatti was an Italian Baroque composer especially famous for his operas and chamber cantatas. He is considered the founder of the Neapolitan school of opera. He was the father of two other composers, Domenico Scarlatti and Pietro Filippo Scarlatti.-Life:Scarlatti was born in...

's Il trionfo dell'onore (1718). At first written in Neapolitan dialect, these works became "Italianized" with the operas of Scarlatti, Pergolesi
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi was an Italian composer, violinist and organist.-Biography:Born at Iesi, Pergolesi studied music there under a local musician, Francesco Santini, before going to Naples in 1725, where he studied under Gaetano Greco and Francesco Feo among others...

 (La serva padrona
La serva padrona
La serva padrona is an opera buffa by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi to a libretto by Gennaro Antonio Federico, after the play by Jacopo Angello Nelli. The opera is only 45 minutes long and was originally performed as an intermezzo between the acts of a larger serious opera...

), Piccinni
Niccolò Piccinni
Niccolò Piccinni was an Italian composer of symphonies, sacred music, chamber music, and opera. Although he is somewhat obscure, even to music lovers today, Piccinni was one of the most popular composers of opera—particularly the Neapolitan opera buffa—of his day...

 (La Cecchina), Cimarosa
Domenico Cimarosa
Domenico Cimarosa was an Italian opera composer of the Neapolitan school...

 (Il matrimonio segreto
Il matrimonio segreto
Il matrimonio segreto is an opera in two acts, music by Domenico Cimarosa, on a libretto by Giovanni Bertati, based on the play The Clandestine Marriage by George Colman the Elder and David Garrick...

), and then the great comic operas of Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , baptismal name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart , was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. He composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music...

 and, later, Rossini.

At first, 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
Niccolò Piccinni
Niccolò Piccinni was an Italian composer of symphonies, sacred music, chamber music, and opera. Although he is somewhat obscure, even to music lovers today, Piccinni was one of the most popular composers of opera—particularly the Neapolitan opera buffa—of his day...

 wrote the music to La Cecchina
La buona figliuola
La Cecchina, ossia La buona figliuola is an opera buffa in three Acts by Niccolò Piccinni. The libretto, by Carlo Goldoni, is based on Samuel Richardson's novel Pamela. This was Piccinni's most successful Italian opera. There was a sequel entitled La buona figliuola maritata by the same composer...

to a text by the great Venetian playwright, Carlo Goldoni
Carlo Goldoni
Carlo Osvaldo Goldoni was an Italian playwright and librettist from the Republic of Venice. His works include some of Italy's most famous and best-loved plays. Audiences have admired the plays of Goldoni for their ingenious mix of wit and honesty...

. That text was based on Samuel Richardson
Samuel Richardson
Samuel Richardson was an 18th-century English writer and printer. He is best known for his three epistolary novels: Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded , Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady and The History of Sir Charles Grandison...

's popular English novel, Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740). Many years later, Verdi
Giuseppe Verdi
Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian Romantic composer, mainly of opera. He was one of the most influential composers of the 19th century...

 called La Cecchina the "first true Italian comic opera" – that is to say, it had everything: it was in standard Italian and not in 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.

The genre was developed further in the 19th century by Gioacchino Rossini
Gioacchino Rossini
Gioachino Antonio Rossini was an Italian composer who wrote 39 operas as well as sacred music, chamber music, songs, and some instrumental and piano pieces...

 in his masterpieces such as The Barber of Seville
The Barber of Seville
The Barber of Seville, or The Futile Precaution is an opera buffa in two acts by Gioachino Rossini with a libretto by Cesare Sterbini. The libretto was based on Pierre Beaumarchais's comedy Le Barbier de Séville , which was originally an opéra comique, or a mixture of spoken play with music...

(1816) and La Cenerentola
La Cenerentola
La Cenerentola, ossia La bontà in trionfo is an operatic dramma giocoso in two acts by Gioachino Rossini. The libretto was written by Jacopo Ferretti, based on the fairy tale Cinderella...

(1817).

French opéra comique and opérette

French composers eagerly seized upon the Italian model and made it their own, calling it opéra comique. Early proponents included François-Adrien Boïeldieu
François-Adrien Boïeldieu
François-Adrien Boieldieu was a French composer, mainly of operas, often called "the French Mozart".-Biography:...

 (1775–1834), Daniel François Auber (1782–1871) and Adolphe Adam
Adolphe Adam
Adolphe Charles Adam was a French composer and music critic. A prolific composer of operas and ballets, he is best known today for his ballets Giselle and Le corsaire , his operas Le postillon de Lonjumeau , Le toréador and Si j'étais roi , and his Christmas...

 (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
Carmen
Carmen is a French opéra comique by Georges Bizet. The libretto is by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, based on the novella of the same title by Prosper Mérimée, first published in 1845, itself possibly influenced by the narrative poem The Gypsies by Alexander Pushkin...

that are not "comic" in any sense of the word.

Florimond Hervé
Hervé (composer)
Hervé , real name Louis Auguste Florimond Ronger, was a French singer, composer, librettist, conductor and scene painter, whom Ernest Newman, following Reynaldo Hahn, credited with inventing the genre of operetta in Paris.-Life:Hervé was born in Houdain near Arras...

 (1825–1892) is credited as the inventor of French opéra bouffe
Opéra bouffe
Opéra bouffe is a genre of late 19th-century French operetta, closely associated with Jacques Offenbach, who produced many of them at the Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens that gave its name to the form....

, or opérette. Working on the same model, Jacques Offenbach (1819–1880) quickly surpassed him, writing over ninety operetta
Operetta
Operetta is a genre of light opera, light in terms both of music and subject matter. It is also closely related, in English-language works, to forms of musical theatre.-Origins:...

s. Whereas earlier French comic operas had a mixture of sentiment and humour, Offenbach's works were intended solely to amuse. Though generally well crafted and full of humorous satire and grand opera parodies, 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. Another Frenchman who took up this form was Charles Lecocq.

German singspiel and Viennese operetta

The singspiel
Singspiel
A Singspiel is a form of German-language music drama, now regarded as a genre of opera...

 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
Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential composers of all time.Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of...

 Fidelio
Fidelio
Fidelio is a German opera in two acts by Ludwig van Beethoven. It is Beethoven's only opera. The German libretto is by Joseph Sonnleithner from the French of Jean-Nicolas Bouilly which had been used for the 1798 opera Léonore, ou L’amour conjugal by Pierre Gaveaux, and for the 1804 opera Leonora...

and Weber's
Carl Maria von Weber
Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst von Weber was a German composer, conductor, pianist, guitarist and critic, one of the first significant composers of the Romantic school....

 Der Freischütz
Der Freischütz
Der Freischütz is an opera in three acts by Carl Maria von Weber with a libretto by Friedrich Kind. It premiered on 18 June 1821 at the Schauspielhaus Berlin...

, retained the form, but explored more serious subjects

19th century Viennese operetta
Operetta
Operetta is a genre of light opera, light in terms both of music and subject matter. It is also closely related, in English-language works, to forms of musical theatre.-Origins:...

was built on both the singspiel and the French model. Franz von Suppé
Franz von Suppé
Franz von Suppé or Francesco Suppé Demelli was an Austrian composer of light operas who was born in what is now Croatia during the time his father was working in this outpost of the Austro-Hungarian Empire...

 (1819–1895) is remembered mainly for his overtures. Johann Strauss II
Johann Strauss II
Johann Strauss II , also known as Johann Baptist Strauss or Johann Strauss, Jr., the Younger, or the Son , was an Austrian composer of light music, particularly dance music and operettas. He composed over 500 waltzes, polkas, quadrilles, and other types of dance music, as well as several operettas...

 (1825–1899), the "waltz king", contributed Die Fledermaus
Die Fledermaus
Die Fledermaus is an operetta composed by Johann Strauss II to a German libretto by Karl Haffner and Richard Genée.- Literary sources :...

(1874) and The Gypsy Baron
The Gypsy Baron
The Gypsy Baron is an operetta in three acts by Johann Strauss II which premiered at the Theater an der Wien on 24 October 1885. Its libretto was by the author Ignaz Schnitzer and in turn was based on Sáffi by Mór Jókai. During the composer's lifetime, the operetta enjoyed great success, second...

(1885). Karl Millöcker
Karl Millöcker
Carl Joseph Millöcker , was an Austrian composer of operettas and a conductor.He was born in Vienna, where he studied the flute at the Vienna Conservatory. While holding various conducting posts in the city, he began to compose operettas...

 (1842-1899) a long-time conductor at the Theater an der Wien
Theater an der Wien
The Theater an der Wien is a historic theatre on the Left Wienzeile in the Mariahilf district of Vienna. Completed in 1801, it has seen the premieres of many celebrated works of theatre, opera, and symphonic music...

, also composed some of the most popular Viennese operettas of the late 19th century, including Der Bettelstudent
Der Bettelstudent
Der Bettelstudent is an operetta in three acts by Carl Millöcker with a German libretto by Camillo Walzel and Richard Genée, based on Les noces de Fernande by Victorien Sardou and The Lady of Lyons by Edward Bulwer-Lytton...

(1882), Gasparone
Gasparone
Gasparone is an operetta in three acts by Carl Millöcker to a German libretto by Friedrich Zell and Richard Genée. The libretto was later revised by Ernst Steffan and Paul Knepler...

(1884) and Der arme Jonathan (1890).

After the turn of the 20th century, Franz Lehár
Franz Lehár
Franz Lehár was an Austrian-Hungarian composer. He is mainly known for his operettas of which the most successful and best known is The Merry Widow .-Biography:...

 (1870–1948) wrote The Merry Widow
The Merry Widow
The Merry Widow is an operetta by the Austro–Hungarian composer Franz Lehár. The librettists, Viktor Léon and Leo Stein, based the story – concerning a rich widow, and her countrymen's attempt to keep her money in the principality by finding her the right husband – on an 1861 comedy play,...

(1905); and Oscar Straus
Oscar Straus (composer)
Oscar Nathan Straus was a Viennese composer of operettas and film scores and songs. He also wrote about 500 cabaret songs, chamber music, and orchestral and choral works...

 (1870–1954) supplied Ein Walzertraum
Ein Walzertraum
Ein Walzertraum is an operetta by Oscar Straus with a German libretto by Leopold Jacobson and Felix Dörmann, based on the novella Nur der Prinzgemahl by Hans Müller-Einigen from his 1905 book Buch der Abenteuer .The young Jacobson presented Straus with a libretto for Ein Walzertraum at a...

("A Waltz Dream", 1907) and The Chocolate Soldier
The Chocolate Soldier
The Chocolate Soldier is an operetta composed in 1908 by Oscar Straus based on George Bernard Shaw's 1894 play, Arms and the Man...

(1908).

Spanish zarzuela

Zarzuela, introduced in Spain
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 in the 17th century, is rooted in popular Spanish traditional musical theatre. It alternates between spoken and sung scenes, the latter incorporating dances, with chorus numbers and humorous scenes that are usually duets. These works are relatively short, and ticket prices were often low, to appeal to the general public. There are two main forms of zarzuela: Baroque zarzuela (c.1630–1750), the earliest style, and Romantic zarzuela (c.1850–1950), which can be further divided into the two subgenres of género grande and género chico
Género chico
Género chico is a Spanish genre of short light musical plays. It is a subgenre of zarzuela, the Spanish operetta...

.

Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Pedro Calderón de la Barca y Barreda González de Henao Ruiz de Blasco y Riaño usually referred as Pedro Calderón de la Barca , was a dramatist, poet and writer of the Spanish Golden Age. During certain periods of his life he was also a soldier and a Roman Catholic priest...

 was the first playwright to adopt the term zarzuela for his work entitled El golfo de las sirenas ("The Gulf of the Sirens", 1657). Lope de Vega
Lope de Vega
Félix Arturo Lope de Vega y Carpio was a Spanish playwright and poet. He was one of the key figures in the Spanish Golden Century Baroque literature...

 soon wrote a work titled La selva sin amor, drama con orquesta ("The Loveless Jungle, A Drama with Orchestra"). The instruments orchestra was hidden from the audience, the actors sang in harmony, and the musical composition itself was intended to evoke an emotional response. Some of these early pieces were lost, but Los celos hacen estrellas ("Jealousies Turn Into Stars") by Juan Hidalgo and Juan Vélez, which premiered in 1672, survives and gives us some sense of what the genre was like in the 17th century.

In the 18th century, the Italian operatic style influenced Zarzuela. But beginning with the reign of Bourbon King Charles III, anti-Italian sentiment increased. Zarzuela returned to its roots in popular Spanish tradition in works such as the sainetes (or Entr'actes) of Don Ramón de la Cruz. This author's first work in this genre was Las segadoras de Vallecas ("The Reapers of Vallecas", 1768), with music by Rodríguez de Hita.

Single act zarzuelas were classified as género chico (the "little genre" or "little form") and zarzuelas of three or more acts were género grande (the "big genre" or "big form"). Zarzuela grande battled on at the Teatro de la Zarzuela de Madrid, but with little success and light attendance. In spite of this, in 1873 a new theater, the Apolo, was opened for zarzuela grande, which shared the failures of the Teatro de la Zarzuela, until it was forced to change its program to género chico.

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
John Gay
John Gay was an English poet and dramatist and member of the Scriblerus Club. He is best remembered for The Beggar's Opera , set to music by Johann Christoph Pepusch...

 The Beggar's Opera
The Beggar's Opera
The Beggar's Opera is a ballad opera in three acts written in 1728 by John Gay with music arranged by Johann Christoph Pepusch. It is 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...

was the earliest and most popular of these. Richard Brinsley Sheridan's
Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan was an Irish-born playwright and poet and long-term owner of the London Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. For thirty-two years he was also a Whig Member of the British House of Commons for Stafford , Westminster and Ilchester...

 La Duenna (1775), with a score by Thomas Linley
Thomas Linley the younger
Thomas Linley the younger was the eldest son of the composer Thomas Linley the elder and his wife Mary Johnson. He was one of the most precocious composers and performers that have been known in England, and became known as the "English Mozart".-Early life:Linley's abilities were apparent from a...

, was expressly described as "a comic opera".

By the second half of the 19th century, the London musical stage was dominated by pantomime
Pantomime
Pantomime — not to be confused with a mime artist, a theatrical performer of mime—is a musical-comedy theatrical production traditionally found in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Jamaica, South Africa, India, Ireland, Gibraltar and Malta, and is mostly performed during the...

 and musical burlesque, as well as bawdy, badly translated continental operettas, often including "ballets" featuring much prurient interest, and visiting the theatre became distasteful to the respectable public, especially women and children. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas German Reed
Thomas German Reed
Thomas German Reed was an English composer and theatrical manager best known for creating the German Reed Entertainments, a genre of musical plays that made theatre-going respectable at a time when the stage was considered disreputable...

, beginning in 1855, and a number of other Britons, deplored the risqué state of musical theatre and introduced short comic operas
German Reed Entertainment
German Reed Entertainment was founded in 1855 and operated by Thomas German Reed together with his wife, Priscilla Reed née Horton...

 designed to be more family-friendly and to elevate the intellectual level of musical entertainments. Jessie Bond
Jessie Bond
Jessie Bond was an English singer and actress best known for creating the mezzo-soprano soubrette roles in the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas. She spent twenty years on the stage, the bulk of them with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company.Musical from an early age, Bond began a concert singing...

 wrote, The stage was at a low ebb, Elizabethan glories and Georgian artificialities had alike faded into the past, stilted tragedy and vulgar farce were all the would-be playgoer had to choose from, and the theatre had become a place of evil repute to the righteous British householder.... A first effort to bridge the gap was made by the German Reed Entertainers.

Nevertheless, an 1867 production of Offenbach's The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein
La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein
La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein is an opéra bouffe , in three acts and four tableaux by Jacques Offenbach to an original French libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy...

(seven months after its French première) ignited the English appetite for light operas with more carefully crafted librettos and scores, and continental European operettas continued to be extremely popular in Britain in the 1860s and '70s, including Les Cloches de Corneville
Les cloches de Corneville
Les cloches de Corneville is an operetta in three acts, composed by Robert Planquette to a French libretto by Louis Clairville and Charles Gabet based on a play by Gabet.In 1876, the director of the Théâtre des Folies-Dramatiques, Louis Cantin, hired Planquette to compose the operetta,...

, Madame Favart
Madame Favart
Madame Favart is an opéra comique, or operetta, in three acts by Jacques Offenbach. The French libretto was written by Alfred Duru and Henri Charles Chivot.-Performance history:...

and others into the 1880s, often adapted by H. B. Farnie and Robert Reece
Robert Reece
Robert Reece was a British comic playwright and librettist active in the Victorian era. He wrote many successful musical burlesques, comic operas, farces and adaptations from the French, including the English-language adaptation of the operetta Les cloches de Corneville, which became the...

. F. C. Burnand collaborated with several composers, including Arthur Sullivan
Arthur Sullivan
Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan MVO was an English composer of Irish and Italian ancestry. He is best known for his series of 14 operatic collaborations with the dramatist W. S. Gilbert, including such enduring works as H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado...

 in Cox and Box
Cox and Box
Cox and Box; or, The Long-Lost Brothers, is a one-act comic opera with a libretto by F. C. Burnand and music by Arthur Sullivan, based on the 1847 farce Box and Cox by John Maddison Morton. It was Sullivan's first successful comic opera. The story concerns a landlord who lets a room to two...

, to write several comic operas on English themes in the 1860s and 1870s.

In 1875, Richard D'Oyly Carte
Richard D'Oyly Carte
Richard D'Oyly Carte was an English talent agent, theatrical impresario, composer and hotelier during the latter half of the Victorian era...

, one of the impresarios aiming to establish an English school of family-friendly light opera by composers such as Frederic Clay
Frederic Clay
Frederic Emes Clay was an English composer known principally for his music written for the stage. Clay, a great friend of Arthur Sullivan's, wrote four comic operas with W. S...

 and Edward Solomon
Edward Solomon
Edward Solomon was a prolific English composer, as well as a conductor, orchestrator and pianist. Though he died before his fortieth birthday, he wrote dozens of works produced for the stage, including several for the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, such as The Nautch Girl, among others.-Early...

 as a countermeasure to the continental operettas, commissioned Clay's collaborator, W. S. Gilbert
W. S. Gilbert
Sir William Schwenck Gilbert was an English dramatist, librettist, poet and illustrator best known for his fourteen comic operas produced in collaboration with the composer Sir Arthur Sullivan, of which the most famous include H.M.S...

, and the promising young composer, Arthur Sullivan
Arthur Sullivan
Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan MVO was an English composer of Irish and Italian ancestry. He is best known for his series of 14 operatic collaborations with the dramatist W. S. Gilbert, including such enduring works as H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado...

, to write a short one-act opera that would serve as an afterpiece to Offenbach's La Périchole
La Périchole
La Périchole is an opéra bouffe in three acts by Jacques Offenbach. Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy wrote the French-language libretto based on the 1829 one act play Le carrosse du Saint-Sacrement by Prosper Mérimée, which was revived on 13 March 1850 at the Théâtre-Français...

. The result was Trial by Jury
Trial by Jury
Trial by Jury is a comic opera in one act, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It was first produced on 25 March 1875, at London's Royalty Theatre, where it initially ran for 131 performances and was considered a hit, receiving critical praise and outrunning its...

; its success launched the Gilbert and Sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan refers to the Victorian-era theatrical partnership of the librettist W. S. Gilbert and the composer Arthur Sullivan . The two men collaborated on fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896, of which H.M.S...

 partnership. "Mr. R. D'Oyly Carte's Opera Bouffe Company" took Trial on tour, playing it alongside French works by Offenbach and Alexandre Charles Lecocq
Alexandre Charles Lecocq
Alexandre Charles Lecocq was a French musical composer. He was admitted into the Conservatoire in 1849, being already an accomplished pianist. He studied under François Bazin, François Benoist, and Fromental Halévy, winning the first prize for harmony in 1850, and the second prize for fugue in 1852...

. Eager to liberate the English stage from risqué French influences, and emboldened by the success of Trial by Jury, Carte formed a syndicate in 1877 to perform "light opera of a legitimate kind". Gilbert and Sullivan were commissioned to write a new comic opera, The Sorcerer
The Sorcerer
The Sorcerer is a two-act comic opera, with a libretto by W. S. Gilbert and music by Arthur Sullivan. It was the British duo's third operatic collaboration. The plot of The Sorcerer is based on a Christmas story, An Elixir of Love, that Gilbert wrote for The Graphic magazine in 1876...

, starting the series that came to be known as the Savoy Operas (named for the Savoy Theatre
Savoy Theatre
The Savoy Theatre is a West End theatre located in the Strand in the City of Westminster, London, England. The theatre opened on 10 October 1881 and was built by Richard D'Oyly Carte on the site of the old Savoy Palace as a showcase for the popular series of comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan,...

, which Carte later built for these works) that included H.M.S. Pinafore
H.M.S. Pinafore
H.M.S. Pinafore; or, The Lass That Loved a Sailor is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and a libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It opened at the Opera Comique in London, England, on 25 May 1878 and ran for 571 performances, which was the second-longest run of any musical...

, The Pirates of Penzance
The Pirates of Penzance
The Pirates of Penzance; or, The Slave of Duty is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. The opera's official premiere was at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York City on 31 December 1879, where the show was well received by both audiences...

and The Mikado
The Mikado
The Mikado; or, The Town of Titipu is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert, their ninth of fourteen operatic collaborations...

, which became popular around the world. The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company
D'Oyly Carte Opera Company
The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company was a professional light opera company that staged Gilbert and Sullivan's Savoy operas. The company performed nearly year-round in the UK and sometimes toured in Europe, North America and elsewhere, from the 1870s until it closed in 1982. It was revived in 1988 and...

 continued to perform Gilbert and Sullivan almost continuously until it closed in 1982.

The Gilbert and Sullivan style was widely imitated by their contemporaries (for example, in Dorothy
Dorothy (opera)
Dorothy is a comic opera in three acts with music by Alfred Cellier and a libretto by B. C. Stephenson. The story involves a rake who falls in love with his disguised fiancée.It was first produced at the Gaiety Theatre in London on in 1886...

), and the creators themselves wrote works in this style with other collaborators in the 1890s. None of these, however, had lasting popularity, leaving the Savoy Operas as practically the sole representatives of the genre surviving today. Only recently, some of these other English light operas have begun to be explored by scholars and to receive performances and recordings.

Russian comic opera

The first opera presented in Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

, in 1731, was a comic opera (or "commedia per musica"), Calandro
Calandro
Calandro is an opera buffa in three acts composed by Giovanni Alberto Ristori to a libretto by Stefano Benedetto Pallavicini. The libretto was based on the comedy Il Calandro by Bernardo Dovizi...

, by an Italian composer, Giovanni Alberto Ristori
Giovanni Alberto Ristori
Giovanni Alberto Ristori was an Italian opera composer and conductor. He was the son of Tommaso Ristori, the leader of an opera troupe belonging to the King of Poland and Elector of Saxony August II the Strong...

. It was followed by the comic operas of other Italians, like Galuppi and Cimarosa
Domenico Cimarosa
Domenico Cimarosa was an Italian opera composer of the Neapolitan school...

, and also the Belgian
Demographics of Belgium
This article is about the demographic features of the population of Belgium, including ethnicity, education level, health of the populace, economic status, religious affiliations and other aspects of the population...

/French composer Grétry
André Ernest Modeste Grétry
André Ernest Modeste Grétry was acomposer from the Prince-Bishopric of Liège , who worked from 1767 onwards in France and took French nationality. He is most famous for his opéras comiques....

.

The first Russian comic opera was Anyuta
Anyuta
Anyuta is a one-act comic opera to a libretto by Mikhail Popov. First performed in 1772, it was one of the first operas written in the Russian language ....

(1772). The text was written by Mikhail Popov
Mikhail Vasilyevich Popov
Mikhail Ivanovich Popov was a Russian writer, poet, dramatist and opera librettist of the 18th century.-Biography:Born into a merchant family, he was a pupil of Fyodor Volkov. After 1757 he was an actor at the Court Theatre in St Petersburg. He entered Moscow University in 1765, and began to...

, with music by an unknown composer, consisting of a selection of popular songs specified in the libretto. Another successful comic opera, Melnik – koldun, obmanshchik i svat ("The Miller who was a Wizard, a Cheat and a Match-maker"', text by Alexander Ablesimov
Alexander Ablesimov
Aleksander Onisimovich Ablesimov, was a Russian opera librettist, poet, dramatist, satirist and journalist.-Biography:Worked as copyist for Alexander Sumarokov. Published his fables and satirical poems...

, Moscow
Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

, 1779), on a subject resembling Rousseau's Devin, is attributed to Mikhail Sokolovsky. Ivan Kerzelli
Ivan Kerzelli
Ivan Kerzelli or Cherzelli was an opera composer and conductor in Imperial Russia of 18th century....

, Vasily Pashkevich
Vasily Pashkevich
Vasily Alexeyevich Pashkevich also Paskevich was a Russian composer, singer, violinist and teacher who lived during the time of Catherine the Great.-Biography:...

 and Yevstigney Fomin
Yevstigney Fomin
Yevstigney Ipat'yevich Fomin was a Russian opera composer of the 18th century.-Biography:...

 also wrote a series of successful comic operas in the 18th century.

In the 19th century, Russian comic opera was further developed by Alexey Verstovsky
Alexey Verstovsky
Alexey Nikolayevich Verstovsky was a Russian composer, musical bureaucrat and rival of Mikhail Glinka.-Biography:...

 who composed more 30 opera-vaudevilles and 6 grand operas (most of them with spoken dialogue). Later, Modest Mussorgsky
Modest Mussorgsky
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky was a Russian composer, one of the group known as 'The Five'. He was an innovator of Russian music in the romantic period...

 worked on two comic operas, The Fair at Sorochyntsi and Zhenit'ba ("The Marriage"), which he left unfinished (they were completed only in 20th century). Pyotr Tchaikovsky wrote a comic opera, Cherevichki (after Nikolai Gogol
Nikolai Gogol
Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol was a Ukrainian-born Russian dramatist and novelist.Considered by his contemporaries one of the preeminent figures of the natural school of Russian literary realism, later critics have found in Gogol's work a fundamentally romantic sensibility, with strains of Surrealism...

, 1885, 1887 Moscow
Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

). Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov was a Russian composer, and a member of the group of composers known as The Five.The Five, also known as The Mighty Handful or The Mighty Coterie, refers to a circle of composers who met in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in the years 1856–1870: Mily Balakirev , César...

 composed May Night
May Night
May Night is an opera in three acts, four scenes, by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov from a libretto by the composer and is based on Nikolai Gogol's story May Night, or the Drowned Maiden, from his collection Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka....

1878–1879 and The Golden Cockerel
The Golden Cockerel
The Golden Cockerel is an opera in three acts, with short prologue and even shorter epilogue, by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Its libretto, by Vladimir Belsky, derives from Alexander Pushkin's 1834 poem The Tale of the Golden Cockerel, which in turn is based on two chapters of Tales of the Alhambra by...

1906–1907.

In the 20th century, the best examples of comic opera by Russian composers were Igor Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky ; 6 April 1971) was a Russian, later naturalized French, and then naturalized American composer, pianist, and conductor....

's Mavra
Mavra
Mavra is a one-act opera buffa composed by Igor Stravinsky, and one of the earliest works of Stravinsky's 'neo-classical' period. The libretto of the opera, by Boris Kochno, is based on Aleksandr Pushkin's The Little House in Kolomna. Mavra is about 25 minutes long, and features two arias, a...

(1922) and The Rake's Progress
The Rake's Progress
The Rake's Progress is an opera in three acts and an epilogue by Igor Stravinsky. The libretto, written by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, is based loosely on the eight paintings and engravings A Rake's Progress of William Hogarth, which Stravinsky had seen on May 2, 1947, in a Chicago...

(1951), Sergey Prokofiev's The Love for Three Oranges (1919) and Betrothal in a Monastery (1940–1941), and Dmitri Shostakovich
Dmitri Shostakovich
Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich was a Soviet Russian composer and one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century....

's The Nose
The Nose
"The Nose" is a satirical short story by Nikolai Gogol. Written between 1835 and 1836, it tells of a St. Petersburg official whose nose leaves his face and develops a life of its own.-Part one:...

(1928, staged 1930). Simultaneously, the genres of light music, operetta, musical comedy, and later, rock opera
Rock opera
A rock opera is a work of rock music that presents a storyline told over multiple parts, songs or sections in the manner of opera. A rock opera differs from a conventional rock album, which usually includes songs that are not unified by a common theme or narrative. More recent developments include...

, were developed by such composers as Isaak Dunayevsky
Isaak Dunayevsky
Isaak Osipovich Dunayevsky was the biggest Soviet film composer and conductor of the 1930s and 1940s, who achieved huge success in music for operetta and film comedies, frequently working with the film director Grigori Aleksandrov...

, Nikolai Strelnikov, Yuri Milyutin, Dmitri Kabalevsky
Dmitri Kabalevsky
Dmitry Borisovich Kabalevsky was a Russian composer.He helped to set up the Union of Soviet Composers in Moscow and remained one of its leading figures. He was a prolific composer of piano music and chamber music; many of his piano works have been performed by Vladimir Horowitz. He is probably...

, Dmitri Shostakovich (Opus 105: Moscow, Cheryomushki
Moscow, Cheryomushki
Moscow, Cheryomushki is an operetta in three acts by Dmitri Shostakovich, his Op. 105. It is sometimes referred to as simply Cheryomushki...

, operetta in 3 acts, (1958)), Tikhon Khrennikov
Tikhon Khrennikov
Tikhon Nikolayevich Khrennikov was a Russian and Soviet composer, pianist, leader of the Union of Soviet Composers, who was also known for his political activities...

, and later by Gennady Gladkov, Alexey Rybnikov, and Alexander Zhurbin.

The 21st century in Russian comic opera began with the noisy premieres of two works whose genre could be described as "opera-farce":

Tsar Demyan (Царь Демьян) – A frightful opera performance. A collective project of five authors wrote the work: Leonid Desyatnikov
Leonid Desyatnikov
Leonid Arkadievich Desyatnikov is a Russian composer.Leonid Desyatnikov was born in 1955 in Kharkiv, Ukraine. He is a graduate of the Leningrad Conservatory, where he studied composition and instrumentation. Desyatnikov has penned four operas, several cantatas and numerous vocal and instrumental...

 and Vyacheslav Gaivoronsky from St. Petersburg, Iraida Yusupova and Vladimir Nikolayev from Moscow
Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

, and the creative collective "Kompozitor", which is a pseudonym for the well-known music critic Pyotr Pospelov. The libretto is by Elena Polenova, based on a folk-drama, Tsar Maksimilyan, and the work premiered on June 20, 2001 at the Mariinski Theatre, St Petersburg. Prize "Gold Mask, 2002" and "Gold Soffit, 2002".

Rosenthal's Children (Дети Розенталя), an opera in two acts by Leonid Desyatnikov
Leonid Desyatnikov
Leonid Arkadievich Desyatnikov is a Russian composer.Leonid Desyatnikov was born in 1955 in Kharkiv, Ukraine. He is a graduate of the Leningrad Conservatory, where he studied composition and instrumentation. Desyatnikov has penned four operas, several cantatas and numerous vocal and instrumental...

, with a libretto by Vladimir Sorokin
Vladimir Sorokin
Vladimir Georgievich Sorokin is a contemporary postmodern Russian writer and dramatist, one of the most popular in modern Russian literature.-Biography:...

. This work was commissioned by the Bolshoi theatre and premiered on March 23, 2005. The staging of the opera was accompanied by juicy scandal; however it was an enormous success.

North American operetta

In the United States, Victor Herbert
Victor Herbert
Victor August Herbert was an Irish-born, German-raised American composer, cellist and conductor. Although Herbert enjoyed important careers as a cello soloist and conductor, he is best known for composing many successful operettas that premiered on Broadway from the 1890s to World War I...

 (1859–1924) was one of the first to pick up the family-friendly style of light opera that Gilbert and Sullivan had made popular, although his music was also influenced by the European operetta composers. His earliest pieces, starting with Prince Ananias in 1894, were styled "comic operas," but his later works were described as "musical extravaganza", "musical comedy", "musical play", "musical farce", and even "opera comique." His two most successful pieces, out of more than half a dozen hits, were Babes in Toyland
Babes in Toyland (operetta)
Babes in Toyland is an operetta composed by Victor Herbert with a libretto by Glen MacDonough , which wove together various characters from Mother Goose nursery rhymes into a Christmas-themed musical extravaganza. The creators wanted to cash in on the extraordinary success of The Wizard of Oz,...

(1903) and Naughty Marietta
Naughty Marietta (operetta)
Naughty Marietta is an operetta in two acts, with libretto by Rida Johnson Young and music by Victor Herbert. Set in New Orleans in 1780, it tells how Captain Richard Warrington is commissioned to unmask and capture a notorious French pirate calling himself "Bras Priqué" – and how he is helped and...

(1910)

Others who wrote in a similar vein included Reginald de Koven
Reginald de Koven
Henry Louis Reginald De Koven was an American music critic and prolific composer, particularly of comic operas.-Biography:...

 (1859–1920), John Philip Sousa
John Philip Sousa
John Philip Sousa was an American composer and conductor of the late Romantic era, known particularly for American military and patriotic marches. Because of his mastery of march composition, he is known as "The March King" or the "American March King" due to his British counterpart Kenneth J....

 (1854–1932), Sigmund Romberg
Sigmund Romberg
Sigmund Romberg was a Hungarian-born American composer, best known for his operettas.-Biography:Romberg was born as Siegmund Rosenberg to a Jewish family in Gross-Kanizsa during the Austro-Hungarian kaiserlich und königlich monarchy period...

 and Rudolf Friml
Rudolf Friml
Rudolf Friml was a composer of operettas, musicals, songs and piano pieces, as well as a pianist. After musical training and a brief performing career in his native Prague, Friml moved to the United States, where he became a composer...

. The modern American musical
Musical theatre
Musical theatre is a form of theatre combining songs, spoken dialogue, acting, and dance. The emotional content of the piece – humor, pathos, love, anger – as well as the story itself, is communicated through the words, music, movement and technical aspects of the entertainment as an...

 incorporated elements of the British and American light operas, with works like Show Boat
Show Boat
Show Boat is a musical in two acts with music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. It was originally produced in New York in 1927 and in London in 1928, and was based on the 1926 novel of the same name by Edna Ferber. The plot chronicles the lives of those living and working...

and Porgy and Bess
Porgy and Bess
Porgy and Bess is an opera, first performed in 1935, with music by George Gershwin, libretto by DuBose Heyward, and lyrics by Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward. It was based on DuBose Heyward's novel Porgy and subsequent play of the same title, which he co-wrote with his wife Dorothy Heyward...

that explored more serious subjects and featured a tight integration among book, movement and lyrics.

In Canada, Oscar Ferdinand Telgmann
Oscar Ferdinand Telgmann
Oscar Ferdinand Telgmann was a Canadian composer of operettas, conductor and educator, and violinist best known for his operetta Leo, the Royal Cadet....

 and George Frederick Cameron
George Frederick Cameron
George Frederick Cameron was a Canadian poet, lawyer, and journalist, best known for the libretto for the operetta Leo, the Royal Cadet.-Life:...

 composed in the Gilbert and Sullivan style of light opera. Leo, the Royal Cadet
Leo, the Royal Cadet
Leo, the Royal Cadet is a light opera with music by Oscar Ferdinand Telgmann. The libretto was by George Frederick Cameron. It was composed in Kingston, Ontario, Canada in 1889. The work centres on Nellie's love for Leo, a cadet at the Royal Military College of Canada who becomes a hero serving...

was performed for the first time on 11 July 1889 at Martin's Opera House in Kingston, Ontario
Kingston, Ontario
Kingston, Ontario is a Canadian city located in Eastern Ontario where the St. Lawrence River flows out of Lake Ontario. Originally a First Nations settlement called "Katarowki," , growing European exploration in the 17th Century made it an important trading post...

.

The line between light opera and other recent forms is difficult to draw. Several works are variously called operettas or musicals, such as Candide
Candide (operetta)
Candide is an operetta with music composed by Leonard Bernstein, based on the novella of the same name by Voltaire. The operetta was first performed in 1956 with a libretto by Lillian Hellman; but since 1974 it has been generally performed with a book by Hugh Wheeler which is more faithful to...

and Sweeney Todd
Sweeney Todd
Sweeney Todd is a fictional character who first appeared as then antagonist of the Victorian penny dreadful The String of Pearls and he was later introduced as an antihero in the broadway musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and its film adaptation...

, depending on whether they are performed in opera houses or in theaters. In addition, some recent American and British musicals make use of an operatic structure, for example, containing recurring motifs, and may even be sung through without dialogue. Those with orchestral scores are usually styled "musicals", while those played on electronic instruments are often styled rock opera
Rock opera
A rock opera is a work of rock music that presents a storyline told over multiple parts, songs or sections in the manner of opera. A rock opera differs from a conventional rock album, which usually includes songs that are not unified by a common theme or narrative. More recent developments include...

s.

External links

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