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Opera buffa (Italian, plural: opere buffe) 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. It is especially associated with developments in Naples in the first half of the 18th century, from whence its popularity spread to Rome and northern Italy. It 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.

The New Grove Dictionary of Opera considers La Cilla (music by Michelangelo Faggioli, text by F. A. Tullio, 1706) and Luigi and Federico Ricci’s Crispino e la comare (1850) to be the first and last sightings of the genre, although the term is still occasionally applied to newer work (for example Krenek's Zeitoper Schwergewicht). Summits in this history are the 80 or so libretti by Carlindo Grolo, Loran Glodici, Sogol Cardoni [1] and various other approximate anagrams of Carlo Goldoni, the three Mozart/Da Ponte collaborations, and the comedies of Gioachino Rossini.

Similar foreign genres such as opéra comique or Singspiel differed as well in having spoken dialogue in place of recitativo secco, although one of the most influential examples, Pergolesi's La serva padrona, sparked the Querelle des bouffons in Paris as an adaptation without sung recitatives.

Contents

History

Comic characters and situations, usually involving servants, had been a part of opera until the early 18th century, when comic opera, or "opera buffa", began to emerge as a separate genre. Opera buffa was a parallel development to opera seria and arose in reaction to the so-called first reform of Zeno and Metastasio.[1] It was, in part, intended as a genre that the common man could relate to more easily. Whereas opera seria was a lavish entertainment that was both made for and depicted kings and nobility, opera buffa was made for and depicted common people with more common problems. High-flown language was generally avoided in favor of dialogue that the lower class would relate to, often in the local dialect, and the stock characters were often derived from those of the Italian commedia dell'arte.

In the early 18th century, comic operas often appeared as short, one-act interludes known as intermezzi that were performed in between acts of opera seria. These gave way to the full-fledged comic opera later in the 18th century. La serva padrona by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710–1736), is the one intermezzo still performed with any regularity today, and provides an excellent example of the style.

Apart from Pergolesi, the first major composers of opera buffa were Nicola Logroscino, Baldassare Galuppi and Alessandro Scarlatti, all of them based in Naples or Venice.

The opera buffa's importance diminished during the Romantic Period. Here, the forms were freer and less extended than in the serious genre and the set numbers were linked by recitativo secco, except in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale in 1843. With Rossini a standard distribution of four characters is reached: a prima donna soubrette (soprano or mezzo); a light, amorous tenor; a basso cantante or baritone capable of lyrical, mostly ironical expression; and a basso buffo whose vocal skills, largely confined to clear articulation and the ability to ‘patter’, must also extend to the baritone for the purposes of comic duets.[2]

The type of comedy could vary, and the range was great: from Rossini's The Barber of Seville in 1816 which was purely comedic, to Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro in 1786 which added drama and pathos. Another example of Romantic opera buffa would Donizetti’s L’eslisir d’amore of 1832.

It is claimed that the last true example of the opera buffa is Luigi and Federico Ricci’s Crispino e la comare in 1850.

On an external side, French Encyclopédistes considered opera buffa "à l'Italienne" a positive response to the rigid schemes then used, and made of it a sort of symbol of compositional freedom.

Relation to and differences from opera seria

While opera seria deals with mythical subjects such as gods and ancient heroes and only occasionally contained comic scenes, opera buffa involves the predominant use of comic scenes, characters, and plot lines in a contemporary setting. The traditional model for opera seria had three acts, dealt with serious subjects in mythical settings as stated above and used high voices (both sopranos and castrati) for principal characters, often even for monarchs. In contrast, the model that generally held for opera buffa was having two acts, dealing with comic scenes and situations as earlier stated and using the lower male voices to the exclusion of the castrati. This led to the creation of the characteristic "basso buffo", a specialist in patter who was the center of most of the comic action. (A well-known basso buffo role is Leporello in Mozart's Don Giovanni).

Sources

  • Eisen, Cliff, et al. 'Mozart'. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Sections 7-10. [1]. 18 Nov. 2009
  • Hunter, Mary. The Culture of opera Buffa in Mozart’s Vienna: A Poetics of Entertainment. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1999. (reviewed in: Stevens, Jane R. “Shifting Focus to Mozart’s Operas.” Eighteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Fall 2001) pg. 160-162.)
  • Opera buffa. World Book Online Reference Center. 2008. 3 Feb. 2008
  • Platoff, John (1992). “How Original Was Mozart? Evidence from “Opera Buffa”.” Early Music: Vol. 20 No. 1. Oxford University Press, Feb. 1992. Pg. 105-117.
  • Webster, James, Hunter, Mary (1997). Opera Buffa in Mozart’s Vienna. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England 1997. (reviewed in: Baker, Nicole. “Untitled.” Notes, Second Series, Vol. 56, No. 1 (September 1999) pg. 138-140.)
  • Weiss, Piero and Budden, Julian (1992). Opera buffa in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, ed. Stanley Sadie, London. ISBN 0-333-73432-7
  • Donald Grout. A Short History of Opera. New York, Columbia University Press, 1965.
  • Roger Parker The Oxford illustrated history of opera
  • Piero Weiss and Julian Budden. "Opera buffa." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 4 Dec. 2009 <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/43721>.
  • Fisher, Burton D. The Barber of Seville (Opera Classics Library Series). Grand Rapids: Opera Journeys, 2005.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ a b Patrick J. Smith: The Tenth Muse (Schirmer 1970) p103
  2. ^ Fisher, Burton D. The Barber of Seville (Opera Classics Library Series)
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Simple English

Opera buffa is an Italian term meaning “comic opera”. It is mainly used for 18th century Italian comic operas. Opera buffa contrasts with opera seria (“serious opera”) in which the story was a tragedy. Opera seria was supposed to be “serious”, while opera buffa was an entertaining musical comedy. Like the opera seria, everything was sung, there was no spoken dialogue. This was different from comic opera in other countries. The story in opera buffa is told in recitative and then there were arias for the characters to show their feelings and show off their voices.

Although we use the term “opera buffa” today, in the 18th century they called such operas by other names, e.g. “commedia in musica”, “dramma giocosa”, “operetta”, “burlesca” etc. An opera buffa was usually a full length work: one which would fill a whole evening’s entertainment. It was different from an “intermezzo” or “farsa” which was a short musical comedy that was performed during the intervals of a musical tragedy, although the difference between the two is not always obvious. The intermezzo became longer and longer during the 18th century and gradually developed into opera buffa. Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrone was an intermezzo which became very famous after Pergolesi’s death. It influenced opera buffa.

Opera buffa always included a lot of caricature. The characters showed human weaknesses such as stupidity, vanity, greed and affectation (people who were pretending to be wise and important). They often poked fun at the ruling classes.

In opera buffa the acting was always very important. It was a very lively show, with a lot happening very quickly. At the end of each act all the main characters sang together: this is called an “ensemble” (the French word for “together”).

Opera buffa started in Naples and gradually spread to other parts of Italy. It was particularly popular at carnival time. Important composers of opera buffa include Carlo Goldoni and Baldassare Galuppi.

By the end of the 18th century it was not always possible to tell the difference between an opera buffa and an opera seria. Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni , for example, has a lot of comedy, but there is also a serious side.


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