Magazine article Gramophone

GRAMOPHONE GUIDE TO Opera Buffa: Richard Wigmore Offers a Guide to Comic Opera, a Genre Illuminated by Mozart's Genius

Magazine article Gramophone

GRAMOPHONE GUIDE TO Opera Buffa: Richard Wigmore Offers a Guide to Comic Opera, a Genre Illuminated by Mozart's Genius

Article excerpt

As with every vocal genre he touched, it was Mozart who redefined opera buffa--literally 'comic opera'. In a sense all that came before seems like a protracted upbeat.

Italian comic operas with sung recitative--for which the terms opera buffa, dramma giocoso and commedia per musica were virtually interchangeable--were popular in Naples from the early 18th century. Unlike the idealised figures of opera seria, their characters were drawn from everyday life, with roots in the commedia dell'arte. Casts typically included two pairs of lovers and a lecherous bass.

After around 1730 opera buffa became more cosmopolitan and migrated north. Venice succumbed after the triumph of Gaetano Latilla's European hit La finta cameriera in 1743. A gifted local composer, Baldassare Galuppi, quickly got in on the act, producing a stream of successful comedies with his fellow-Venetian Goldoni. Il filosofo di campagna (1754), Galuppi's masterpiece, is characteristic in its combination of sparkling melodies and 'chain' finales that gradually ratchet up the tension.

Leading opera buffa composers of a later generation include Niccolo Piccinni, whose La buona figliuola (1760) sets a 'sentimental' Goldoni libretto adapted from Richardson's Pamela, Cimarosa and Paisiello, whose 1782 II barbiere di Siviglia held the stage until swept aside by Rossini's masterpiece. Martin y Soler's Una cosa rara was the Viennese opera sensation of 1786, prompting Mozart to quote it in the Don Giovanni supper scene. …

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