Opera buffa

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Opera buffa (Eng. Comic opera, musical comedy; also joking opera ) is the comic Italian opera , in contrast to the serious opera seria . It has two to three acts and recitatives between the musical numbers (in contrast to the spoken text in the Opéra comique ). Your main characters are not nobles, but farmers, servants or townspeople. Some of these figures are borrowed from the Commedia dell'arte . The opera buffa was created in the 18th century simultaneously in Naples ( Giovanni Battista Pergolesi ) and Venice ( Baldassare Galuppi ).


Early days

The intermezzo , which is close to the opera buffa, served as an amusing insert between the acts of the serious opera that was performed at court . Since there was often a tendency to mix comic and serious actions, librettists such as Apostolo Zeno and Pietro Metastasio tried to make a clear distinction between tragedy and comedy. The independent opera buffa, which was separate from the serious opera, was regarded as entertainment for the third estate until the later 18th century and was therefore little appreciated by the nobles (see estate clause ).

The Teatro dei Fiorentini was the first public theater in which the Neapolitan opera buffa was performed. La Cilla (first performed in 1706) by the lawyer Michelangelo Faggioli, who dedicated the work to the Minister of Justice of Naples, can be seen as a very early example of comic opera in Naples . Only the libretto of this opera has survived. A special feature was that it played in a city district of Naples and was performed in the local dialect.

Everyday, realistic actions were an important characteristic of opera buffa. From Naples it spread to Rome, which also became the center of this form of opera in the 1730s. However, the genre was viewed as secondary overall. The librettists and composers devoted themselves to the opera seria with greater energy.

Effect outside of Italy

If opera buffa is understood as a generic term for Italian comic opera, Pergolesi's La serva padrona (1733) can also be counted among the early successes of this genre. This piece became typical for the opera buffa because it sparked the Buffonist dispute in Paris . Paris was becoming the European opera center and asserting itself against the Italian cities with their older traditions. Therefore rivalries between Italian and French opera troupes were a political issue. In addition, there were the political changes before the French Revolution , which led to the revaluation of popular theater forms, which affected the Italian opera buffa and the French opéra comique .

In 1752 an Italian opera company in Paris sparked a dispute between the "Buffonists" and the advocates of the serious tragedy lyrique . Such disputes had existed for decades, but now the “lower” Italian genre was pitted against the “high” French genre (instead of comparing the tragédie lyrique with the opera seria of equal rank or the opéra comique with the opera buffa). In this way, a social opposition was superimposed on the national opposition. The opera buffa “from the gutter” seemed more valuable to Jean-Jacques Rousseau than the tragédie lyrique of the high aristocracy, which led to angry reactions.

Until then, German-language operas were only translations or imitations of these forms. Vienna was a sideline for the development of the genre. The later musical comedies Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Così fan tutte (1790) and Le nozze di Figaro (1786) also remained meaningless for the development of opera buffa, but became groundbreaking for a “bourgeois opera” in the city theaters of the 19th century. With Le nozze di Figaro, Mozart created a genre synthesis by transferring features of the opera seria to the opera buffa.

Further development since 1800

In the years around the French Revolution, the combination of comedy and tragedy was no longer a sign of negligence, but a political-aesthetic program. Under French influence, at the end of the 18th century the opera buffa developed into the opera semiseria type , which was mainly influenced by Antonio Salieri's operas La Grotta di Trofonio , Axur, re d'Ormus and La finta Scema . The dramma giocoso to be defined as a mix of serious and serene elements, is a common mistake that is not supported by the language of the 18th century. Mozart's Don Giovanni (1787) was also initially viewed as an opera buffa and was only interpreted differently in the course of the 19th century. The social demarcation and emancipation efforts of comedy were more important than the difference between serious and cheerful. As a nobleman, the mischievous crook Don Juan is on the side of the mighty, which contradicted the conventions of comedy and for this reason could provoke and interest. Back then, Mozart only made a contribution to the Don Giovanni fashion in the opera buffa in the decade before the revolution.

Gioachino Rossini renewed the opera buffa and created works that are still in the repertoire today, such as Il barbiere di Siviglia (1816) and La Cenerentola (1817). In the early 19th century, the Romantic era , the importance of the opera buffa quickly declined. It had lost its socio-critical explosiveness, and Rossini seemed to have brought its comedy and drama to an unsurpassable climax.

A romantic work that belongs to this form of opera is Gaetano Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore (1832). Desirability and wealth are no longer ridiculed as vanitas attributes, but celebrated as civil love and prosperity. Giuseppe Verdi wrote a single opera buffa ( Un giorno di regno , 1840) that no longer takes place in the milieu of the common people.

Some characteristics of the opera buffa have flowed into the operetta : Jacques Offenbach referred to some of his pieces as French Opéra bouffon or Opérette bouffe . There were also more cheerful Italian operas later, such as Verdi's Falstaff (1893), Giacomo Puccini's Gianni Schicchi (1918) and Nino Rota's Il cappello di paglia di Firenze (1955). However, they mostly do without the secco recitative.


The opera buffa is characterized by folk or comic themes, the recourse to the impromptu Renaissance comedy ( Commedia dell'arte ), which was revived in the 18th century by Carlo Gozzi , and the occasional parody of the opera seria . Lorenzo da Ponte became famous in times of increased social criticism. The rivalry between two social classes is typical, with the lower class ultimately triumphing over the upper. Caricatured weaknesses such as greed, greed, covetousness and pride should convey a moral message. The victory of trickery over social privilege, however, was to win the sympathy of the public.

Musical characteristics of the Buffo style are the secco recitative , the parlando and the repetition of short melody phrases as well as the formation of longer ensembles with surprising contrasts at the end. There were and are specialized buffo singers as actors . In addition to the linguistic singing of the secco recitative, the song-like melody played a major role. It distinguishes itself from the bel canto with its coloratura that predominates in baroque opera . Motif imitations in the orchestra, onomatopoeia and a springy rhythm that replaced the grave progression of the baroque figured bass inspired musical innovations in the second half of the 18th century. It was also new that the music supported the actors' actions. Not only in the finals at the end of the acts, but also in arias and ensembles, an action often takes place which displaces the baroque da capo aria .

Other composers

See also