OPERA BUFFA, OPÉRA COMIQUE, AND SINGSPIEL
While Gluck was altering the course of musical history in Vienna, another revolution, less grand in scope and more gradually accomplished, but scarcely less important in its results, was being effected in Italy. This was the development of opera buffa, a form of art which was destined, in Italy at any rate, to become a serious rival to the older institution of opera seria, and, in the hands of Mozart, to produce masterpieces such as the world had certainly not known before his day, nor is ever likely to see surpassed. There is some uncertainty about the actual origin of opera buffa. A musical comedy by Vergilio Mazzocchi and Mario Marazzoli, entitled 'Chi sofre speri,' was produced in Florence under the patronage of Cardinal Barberini as early as 1639. The poet Milton was present at this performance, and refers to it in one of his Epistolae Familiares. In 1657 a theatre was actually built in Florence for the performance of musical comedies. For some reason, however, it did not prove a success, and after a few years was compelled to close its doors. After these first experiments there seems to have been no attempt made to resuscitate opera buffa until the rise of the Neapolitan school in the following century. The genesis of the southern branch of opera buffa may with certainty be traced to the intermezzi, or musical interludes, which were introduced into the course of operas and dramas, probably with the object of relieving the mental strain induced by the effort of following a long serious performance. The popularity of these intermezzi throws a curious light upon the character of Italian audiences at that time. We should think it strange if an audience nowadays refused to sit through 'Hamlet' unless it were diversified by occasional scenes from 'Box and Cox.' As time went on, the proportions and general character of these intermezzi acquired greater importance, but it was not until the eighteenth century was well advanced that one of them was promoted to the rank of an independent opera, and, instead of being performed in scraps between the acts of a tragedy, was given for the first time as a separate work. This honour was accorded to Pergolesi's 'La Serva Padrona,' in 1734, and the great success which it met with everywhere soon caused numberless imitations to spring up, so that in a few years opera buffa in Italy was launched upon a career of triumph.
Founded as it was in avowed imitation of the tragedy of the Greeks, opera had never deigned to touch modern life at any point. For a long time the subjects of Italian operas were taken solely from classical legend, and though in time librettists were compelled to have recourse to the medieval romances, they never ventured out of an antiquity more or less remote. Thus it is easy to conceive the delight of the music-
There had been a kind of opéra comique in France for many years, a species of musical pantomime which was very popular at the fairs of St. Laurent and St. Gervais. This form of entertainment scarcely came within the province of art, but it served as a starting-
The early days of opéra comique in Paris were distracted by the jealousy existing between the French and Italian schools, but in 1762 peace was made between the rival factions, and by process of fusion the two became one. With the opening of the new Théâtre de l'Opéra Comique—the Salle Favart, as it was then called—there began a new and brilliant period for the history of French art. It is a significant fact, and one which goes far to prove how closely the foundation of opéra comique was connected with a revolt against the boredom of grand opera, that the most successful composers in the new genre were those who were actually innocent of any musical training whatsoever. Monsigny (1729-
The musical education of Grétry (1741-
With Grétry the first period of opéra comique may be said to close; indeed, the taste of French audiences had begun to change some years before the close of the eighteenth century. The mighty wave of the Revolution swept away the idle gallantries of the sham pastoral, while Ossian newly discovered and Shakespeare newly translated opened the eyes of cultivated Frenchmen to the possibilities of poetry and romance. At the same time, the works of Haydn and Mozart, which had already crossed the frontier, disturbed preconceived notions about the limits of orchestral colouring, and made the thin little scores of Grétry and his contemporaries seem doubly jejune. The change in public taste was gradual, but none the less certain. The opening years of the nineteenth century saw a singular evolution, if not revolution, in the history of opéra comique.
Meanwhile opera in Italy was pursuing its triumphant course. The introduction of the finale brought the two great divisions of opera into closer connection, and most of the great composers of this period succeeded as well in opera buffa as in opera seria. The impetus given to the progress of the art by the brilliant Neapolitan school was ably sustained by such composers as Nicolo Piccinni (1728-
Even more prolific than Cimarosa was Paisiello (1741-
It is hardly likely that the whirligig of time will ever bring Paisiello and his contemporaries into popularity again in England, but in Italy there has been of late years a remarkable revival of interest in the works of the eighteenth century. Some years ago the Argentina Theatre in Rome devoted its winter season almost entirely to reproductions of the works of this school. Many of these old-
Wars and rumours of wars stunted musical development of all kinds in Germany during the earlier years of the eighteenth century. After the death of Keiser in 1739, the glory departed from Hamburg, and opera seems to have lain under a cloud until the advent of Johann Adam Hiller (1728-