THIS BOOK addresses a corner of the larger genre of opera buffa—namely a representative sample of the opere buffe performed in Vienna between about 1770 and 1790—and attempts to elucidate the habits, or conventions, of that repertory. I am interested in the ways these works iterate and reiterate their stories about class and gender, mobility and stability, rigidity and flexibility, cleverness and stupidity; and in their musical, textual, dramatic, and performative systems of signification. The “poetics” aspect of the book, then, lies in its attention to the qualities of the works themselves, and to the ways they re-enact the ancient habits of comedy. I am, however, also interested in the ways these works seem to have functioned in relation to the audience that went repeatedly to see and hear them. This repertory's undeniable capacity to entertain its audience lay partly in the extraordinary powers of its singers, partly in the social scene connected to going to the theatre, but surely also in the repertory's internal characteristics, habits, and values. Thus the “entertainment” aspect of the book—the attempt to figure out what was appealing about this repertory—is profoundly involved with the “poetics” aspect. This is, then, not a history of opera buffa in Vienna, nor is it a series of biographies of its chief protagonists. It is, rather, an exploration of the interaction between the works and their audiences' “horizons of expectations”1—horizons inevitably and powerfully shaped by the habits of the works themselves.
Although my approach is somewhat different from most who have gone before me in the study of opera buffa, the source work of Otto Michtner, Claudio Sartori, Otto Schindler, Taddeo Wiel, and Gustav Zechmeister has been my historical sine qua non2 and the pioneering biographical and critical books and essays by Andrea Della Corte, Silke Leopold, Irène Mam____________________