Opera buffa

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Opera buffa (Italian:  [ˈɔːpera ˈbufːa] ; "comic opera", 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.


Especially associated with developments in Naples in the first half of the 18th century, whence its popularity spread to Rome and northern Italy, 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.

The New Grove Dictionary of Opera considers La Cilla (music by Michelangelo Faggioli, text by Francesco Antonio Tullio  [ it ], 1706) and Luigi and Federico Ricci's Crispino e la comare (1850) to be the first and last appearances of the genre, although the term is still occasionally applied to newer work (for example Ernst Krenek's Zeitoper Schwergewicht ). High points 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 and Gaetano Donizetti.

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 (which is an intermezzo, not opera buffa), sparked the querelle des bouffons in Paris as an adaptation without sung recitatives.

Opéra bouffon

Opéra bouffon is the French term for the Italian genre of opera buffa (comic opera) performed in 18th-century France, either in the original language or in French translation. It was also applied to original French opéras comiques having Italianate or near-farcical plots. [2]

The term was also later used by Jacques Offenbach for five of his operettas ( Orphée aux enfers , Le pont des soupirs , Geneviève de Brabant , Le roman comique  [ fr ] and Le voyage de MM. Dunanan père et fils [3] ), and is sometimes confused with the French opéra comique and opéra bouffe. [4]


Alessandro Scarlatti, one of the first major composers of opera buffa Alessandro Scarlatti.jpg
Alessandro Scarlatti, one of the first major composers of opera buffa

Comic characters had been a part of opera until the early 18th century, when opera buffa began to emerge as a separate genre, an early precursor having been the operatic comedy, Il Trespolo tutore , by Alessandro Stradella, in 1679. 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 an 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. There also existed, however, self-contained operatic comedies. La serva padrona (1733) by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710–1736), is the one intermezzo still performed with any regularity today, and provides an excellent example of the style. Lo frate 'nnamorato (1732) and Il Flaminio (1735), by Pergolesi as well, are examples of the three-act commedia per musica.

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

The importance of opera buffa 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, the exception being 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. [5]

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 be Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore of 1832.

Relation to and differences from opera seria

While opera seria deals with 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 (as, for example, The Barber of Seville), presenting comic scenes and situations as earlier stated and using the lower male voices to the exclusion of the castrati. [6] 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 .)

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Giovanni Battista Pergolesi composer from Italy

Giovanni Battista Draghi, often referred to as Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, was an Italian composer, violinist and organist. His best-known works include his Stabat Mater and the opera La serva padrona. His compositions include operas and sacred music. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 26.

<i>Opera seria</i> opera genre

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 about 1770. The term itself was rarely used at the time and only attained common usage once opera seria was becoming unfashionable and beginning to be viewed as something of a historical genre. The popular rival to opera seria was opera buffa, the 'comic' opera that took its cue from the improvisatory commedia dell'arte.

Comic opera opera genre

Comic opera is a sung dramatic work of a light or comic nature, usually with a happy ending and often including spoken dialogue.

In music, an intermezzo, in the most general sense, is a composition which fits between other musical or dramatic entities, such as acts of a play or movements of a larger musical work. In music history, the term has had several different usages, which fit into two general categories: the opera intermezzo and the instrumental intermezzo.

Opéra comique is a genre of French opera that contains spoken dialogue and arias. It emerged from the popular opéras comiques en vaudevilles of the Fair Theatres of St Germain and St Laurent, which combined existing popular tunes with spoken sections. Associated with the Paris theatre of the same name, opéra comique is not always comic or light in nature; Carmen, perhaps the most famous opéra comique, is a tragedy.

The patter song is characterised by a moderately fast to very fast tempo with a rapid succession of rhythmic patterns in which each syllable of text corresponds to one note. It is a staple of comic opera, especially Gilbert and Sullivan, but it has also been used in musicals and elsewhere.

The Querelle des Bouffons, also known as the Guerre des Bouffons and the Guerre des Coins, was the name given to a battle of rival musical philosophies which took place in Paris between 1752 and 1754. The controversy concerned the relative merits of French and Italian opera.

<i>La serva padrona</i> opera by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

La serva padrona is an opera buffa by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710–1736) to a libretto by Gennaro 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.

Bouffon is a modern French theater term that was re-coined in the early 1960s by Jacques Lecoq at his L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris to describe a specific style of performance work that has a main focus in the art of mockery. The word gave rise to the English word buffoon.

Opéra bouffon is the French term for the Italian genre of opera buffa performed in 18th-century France, either in the original language or in French translation. It was also applied to original French opéras comiques having Italianate or near-farcical plots.

Opera semiseria is an Italian genre of opera, popular in the early and middle 19th century.

French opera Opera in the French tradition

French opera is one of Europe's most important operatic traditions, containing works by composers of the stature of Rameau, Berlioz, Gounod, Bizet, Massenet, Debussy, Ravel, Poulenc and Messiaen. Many foreign-born composers have played a part in the French tradition as well, including Lully, Gluck, Salieri, Cherubini, Spontini, Meyerbeer, Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi and Offenbach.

The French term comédie mêlée d'ariettes was frequently used during the late ancien régime for certain types of opéra comique.

Comédie-Italienne Italian-language theatre and opera performed in France

Comédie-Italienne or Théâtre-Italien are French names which have been used to refer to Italian-language theatre and opera when performed in France.

A bass ( BAYSS) is a type of classical male singing voice and has the lowest vocal range of all voice types. According to The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, a bass is typically classified as having a vocal range extending from around the second E below middle C to the E above middle C (i.e., E2–E4). Its tessitura, or comfortable range, is normally defined by the outermost lines of the bass clef. Categories of bass voices vary according to national style and classification system. Italians favour subdividing basses into the basso cantante (singing bass), basso buffo ("funny" bass), or the dramatic basso profondo (low bass). The American system identifies the bass-baritone, comic bass, lyric bass, and dramatic bass. The German fach system offers further distinctions: Spielbass (Bassbuffo), Schwerer Spielbass (Schwerer Bassbuffo), Charakterbass (Bassbariton), and Seriöser Bass. These classification systems can overlap. Rare is the performer who embodies a single fach without also touching repertoire from another category.

Intermède is a French term for a musical or theatrical performance involving song and dance, also an 18th-century opera genre.

<i>Il prigionier superbo</i> Opera by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

Il prigionier superbo is an opera seria in three acts composed by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi to a libretto attributed to Gennaro Antonio Federico and based on an earlier libretto by Francesco Silvani for Gasparini's opera, La fede tradita e vendicata. It was premiered at the Teatro San Bartolomeo in Naples on 5 September 1733 and received further performances in October. The opera, with its labyrinthine plot involving the rivalry of Metalce and Viridate for the hand of Rosmene, soon sank into oblivion, but its comic intermezzo, La serva padrona was to achieve considerable success when performed on its own.

Les troqueurs is a comic opera in one act by the French composer Antoine Dauvergne, first performed at the Foire Saint-Laurent in Paris on 30 July 1753 and revived by the Opéra-Comique at the Hôtel de Bourgogne on 26 February 1762. The libretto, by Jean-Joseph Vadé, is based on the tale in verse of the same name by La Fontaine.



  1. 1 2 Patrick J. Smith: The Tenth Muse (Schirmer 1970) p. 103.
  2. Bartlet, M Elizabeth C: "Opéra bouffon" in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera , ed. Stanley Sadie (London, 1992, Volume three, p. 685) ISBN   0-333-73432-7.
  3. Scores:Le voyage de MM. Dunanan père et fils (Offenbach, Jacques)
  4. Notably André-Guillaume Contant d'Orville (Histoire de l'opéra bouffon, Amsterdam, 1768, Vol. I and Vol. II) used the term as a synonym for opéra comique (Bartlet, cited above).
  5. Fisher, Burton D. The Barber of Seville (Opera Classics Library Series)
  6. Warrack, John; West, Ewan (1992), The Oxford Dictionary of Opera, ISBN   0-19-869164-5