CLASS AND GENDER IN ARIAS:
FIVE ARIA TYPES
ALTHOUGH this chapter covers the social and dramatic range of arias in this repertory, from the most comic to the most sentimental, from the lowest to the highest, it does justice neither to the incredible variety of arias nor to the virtuosity with which stereotypes and conventions are combined and reconfigured. Rather, it attempts, in examining the most characteristic sorts of utterances for the most conventional sorts of characters, to give a sense of the framework within which authors, singers, and audiences could have worked. This framework is dramatic, in the sense that certain characters tend to function in particular ways in the narrative of the opera; social, in the sense that certain character types tend to embody (whether negatively or positively or ambiguously) some of the ideologies projected by these operas; and, of course, musical and textual, in the sense that it is in the concrete workings-out of vocabularies, themes, and structures that characters most clearly reveal what they are about.
This aria type—the frantic comic piece for the primo buffo singer—is perhaps the paradigmatic aria type for the whole genre of opera buffa. It is most often sung by the one voice type never used in opera seria—the bass1—and it emphasizes the genre's preference for stage gesture and action over sheer vocal skills.2 It clearly demonstrates the formal fluidity of opera buffa arias and is often a moment of hilarity resulting from the character's confusion or ineptitude. As an aria type sung exclusively by men, usually from the middle ranks of society, it also forms part of the genre's ideology about non-noble masculinity.3 Arias of this type are almost with-____________________