Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.
Definition of Operetta
An operetta is like a light opera but more humorous in tone. Unlike full grand operas in which everything is sung, operettas include spoken dialogue along with songs. They usually have comic or romantic plots and can sometimes involve wicked satire. In general, regardless of complications, mistaken identities or characters in mortal danger, at the story's end, there's a happy resolution, which is definitely not the case in opera! Operettas also tend to have extended dance sequences and were designed to be popular entertainment for everyday people, who usually could not have afforded the cost of a grand opera performance.
The form first developed in Europe from various earlier sources, and comic operas were popular in the early 1700s. The person most associated with them is Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880). Born in Germany of Jewish heritage, he became celebrated in France, writing more than 100 comic works. His Orfee aux Enfers (usually translated as Orpheus in Hell or Orpheus in the Underworld), created in 1858, is regarded as the first true operetta. The story spoofs the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice and includes a piece titled 'Infernal Galop', music for an elaborate raucous dance scene that's still played in many orchestral pops concerts today. Offenbach's other works include Le Belle Helene (1864), a farce about Helen of Troy, and Les Brigands (1869).
Another European composer of operettas was Johann Strauss II (1825-1899), from Vienna, Austria. Strauss was best known as the' Waltz King' for compositions like 'The Blue Danube', but he also wrote a series of light operettas, including Die Fledermaus (The Bat, 1874). The plot involves drunken nighttime antics, lovers, a masked ball, and a bat costume.
Gilbert and Sullivan
In England, Sir William S. Gilbert (1836-1911), a dramatist, and Arthur Sullivan (1842 -1900), a composer and conductor, collaborated on 14 comic operettas. The Gilbert and Sullivan team created imaginative works featuring funny, rapid-fire lyrics and elaborate musical sequences. They're some of the most popular in the world, and include H. M. S. Pinafore (1878), about the romantic complications of a sailor and a Captain's daughter. But possibly Gilbert and Sullivan's most popular work is Pirates of Penzance (1879), with a tangled plot about a young sailor, a gang of pirates, and the daughter of a Major General. Both works have been featured in countless revivals, including on Broadway.
Operetta in America
In the early twentieth century, composers in America began creating operettas, many of which were first performed in New York. Victor Herbert (1859-1924) a cellist and conductor, wrote 43 operettas. Among his most famous are Babes in Toyland (1903), created to replicate the success of The Wizard Of Oz, a version of which had recently run on Broadway. Babes in Toyland has a complicated plot involving children, shipwrecks, despots, Mother Goose Characters, a land where toys come to life, and insects. Whew! Another Victor Herbert operetta, Naughty Marietta (1910), takes place in New Orleans. It features a tangled tale of a runaway countess and pirates and includes the song 'Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life'. You might remember it was used to very comic effect when a character has sex in the movie Young Frankenstein!
Another composer, Sigmund Romberg (1887-1951), a Hungarian who settled in New York, wrote several popular operettas, including Blossom Time and Desert Song. His most famous is The Student Prince (1925), in which a prince disguises his identify and enjoys student life, drinking in beer halls and falling in love with a barmaid. Romberg was one of the last to create operettas in the classic form. By the 1930s, jazz, popular music by composers like George Gershwin and Irvin Berlin, and shorter-style musicals took over the stage. But the best operettas continue to be revived and enjoyed today.
The operetta is a musical theater form that's lighter in tone than full opera and often involves romance and farce. Famous European operetta composers include Jacques Offenbach, who created the first true operetta with Orfee aux Enfers; Johan Strauss II, composer of Die Fledermaus; and Gilbert and Sullivan, the team responsible for Pirates of Penzance. In America, Victor Herbert was known for Babes in Toyland, and Sigmund Romberg created The Student Prince.
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