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Comic opera denotes a sung dramatic work of a light or comic nature, usually with a happy ending.
Forms of comic opera first developed in late 17th-century Italy. By the 1730s, a new operatic genre, opera buffa, emerged as an alternative to opera seria. It quickly made its way to France, where it became opéra bouffon, and eventually, in the following century, French operetta, with Jacques Offenbach as its most accomplished practitioner.
The influence of the Italian and French forms spread to other parts of Europe. Many countries developed their own genres of comic opera, incorporating the Italian and French models along with their own musical traditions. Examples include Viennese operetta, German singspiel, Spanish zarzuela, Russian comic opera, English ballad opera, and Savoy Opera.
In late 17th-century Italy, light-hearted musical plays began to be offered as an alternative to weightier opera seria (17th-century Italian opera based on classical mythology). Il Trespolo tutore (1679) by Alessandro Stradella (1639–1682) was an early precursor of opera buffa. The opera has a farcical plot, and the characters of the ridiculous guardian Trespolo and the maid Despina are prototypes of characters widely used later in the opera buffa genre.
The form began to flourish in Naples with Alessandro Scarlatti's Il trionfo dell'onore (1718). At first written in Neapolitan dialect, these works became "Italianized" with the operas of Scarlatti, Pergolesi (La serva padrona), Piccinni (La Cecchina), Cimarosa (Il matrimonio segreto), and then the great comic operas of Mozart and, later, Rossini.
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