The German Singspiel was “a musical work popular in Germany, especially in the latter part of the 18th century that is characterized by spoken dialogue and interspersed with songs.” The fame of the German Singspiel came in the late 18th century, having its roots planted in comic opera; the Italian Opera Buffa, the French Opera-Comique, and the English Ballad Opera. This was a musical form that famously known for its light quality, and its incorporation of German folk songs and themes that were taken from popular literature. For most of the eighteenth century, the German Singspiel was written for a lowbrow audience, which was lighthearted and could be put on by actors that didn’t have the extensive musical training that was required by the Italian Opera Seria or Opera Buffa.
Medieval Europe was home to the first and earliest forms of developed plays. These plays began as texts that were borrowed from the liturgy with have been embellished, and slowly as they gained in popularity the texts were set to music and became more intricate and detailed. Organizations in local communities brought in travelling groups of actors to stage these new “miracle plays” in theatrical productions. The plays had sacred plots, but they “specifically re-enacted miraculous interventions by the saints.” Rather than biblical events, the miraculous interventions of both St. Nicholas and St. Mary would be placed into the lives of ordinary people.
Miracle plays were known as the first Singspiel and were being performed in Germany. The dialogue was circulated between moments of singing in the liturgical texts. The beginning of the seventeenth century brought about some moments of change in these miracle plays, which were becoming more and more sacrilegious. Also by the beginning of the seventeenth century the term “singspiel” was becoming more dominant and would soon become the main term of the compositions, even though it would still remain a seemingly unknown genre. The new, secular Singspiel were being translated into German and then imitated from other well known English and Italian songs. This process became well known in the eighteenth century for turning other countries works into German Singspiel’s.
The eighteenth century was a musically influential period, especially in the realm of opera. The term “opera” refers to any “entirely musical drama consisting of vocal pieces with instrumental accompaniment.” Italian Opera Seria was one of the most dominant forms of opera in the eighteenth century. The original Italian Opera Seria, further developed in the mid century, creating the Reform Opera. At this same time, Opera Buffa was gaining recognition and prominence across theatres in not only Italy, but in countries all across Europe.
The major composer of the dominant Opera Seria was Alessandro Scarlatti, who helped the emergence of this operatic style in Naples in the late seventeenth century. Emphasis was taken away from the chorus and the orchestra and placed on a high soprano solo voice, which was mainly played by a woman, or a male “castrati”. As the name implies, the themes of opera seria were serious in nature, and incredibly difficult to perform, requiring the highest grade of musicians and performers alike.
In approximately 1760, the popularity of opera buffa superseded that of its serious precursor, the Italian opera seria. The nature of the comic opera changed to incorporate more elements of serious and sentimental qualities that were textured and deeper. The libretto of opera buffa was valued for its comic elements that would have the audience laughing, and the next moment have the audience crying. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart could develop this trait musically through moments of parody that would make fun of elements that were traditionally found in that of Opera Seria. Only twenty years after surpassing the serious operatic genre in popularity, Opera Buffa became the completely dominant form of opera in Italy.
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