The Neapolitan comic opera : the History from the beginning

Neapolitan comic opera

In the 1700s the Naples was one of the greatest European musical capitals, the most populous Italian city
as well as the largest city after London and Paris. The musical and artistic ferment of the city was at its peak and it was in this very creative Naples that the tradition of the comic opera was born.

The comic opera (better known in Italian as “opera buffa”) developed from the intermezzi, or interludes, performed between the very long acts of serious operas (“opera seria”). The Teatro San Bartolomeo in Naples can be considered the place where the comic opera originated: in 1733 the composer Giovan Battista Pergolesi staged his most famous interlude named La serva padrona which still today, after more than two hundred years, fascinates audiences all over the world.

Comic operas was used to make political and social satire through a symbolic language, using allegories
that the people could easily understand. The stories of cheating servants, old misers, peasants, and
prostitutes made clear reference to royal characters, aristocrats and politicians of the time, involved in
shady affairs and far from virtuous life conduct. It took very little to identify them, often a small detail and it immediately became easy to mock the nobles, the clergy and the rich bourgeois.

In addition to the great appreciation by the public, all the comic operas of the eighteenth century boasted another important feature: they were much less expensive than serious operas, required fewer actors, less precious costumes and simpler scenes. This allowed the comic opera to rapidly expand from Naples to Europe and then around the world.

As early as 1740, the comic opera had refined its repertoire by setting some rules that identified it and
which are still valid today:

  • fast alternation of arias
  • duets
  • triplets
  • accompanied recitatives
  • elaborated endings

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