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The Four Enchanting Subgenres of Opera

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The Four Enchanting Sub-Genres of Opera

Opera has a vibrant history: It's a form of storytelling—People tell dramatic, sordid, and humorous tales through song. Like many art forms, opera has a myriad of genres.

Opera Seria

Opera Seria is a serious or tragic tale told through song. You can count on something awful happening to the main characters in almost every case, and you'll likely leave bawling or in shock. This style dominated the 18th century.

Musically speaking, this genre primarily showcased the solo voice as well as bel canto.

If you're new to opera, you may be wondering what the term "bel canto" actually means. True to the Italian affinity for bravado in all elements of life, it refers to "beautiful singing." It actually originated in polyphonic (multipart) music and solo singing in Italian courts during the late 16th century. However, it was only developed into a form of opera by 1601, and it continued to evolve throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries.

There are some deeply moving operas in this genre, crafted by some of the greats throughout history, including Rinaldo by George Frideric Handel, Demofoonte by Niccoli Jommeli, and Didone Abbandonata by Nicola Porpora.

Opera Buffa

Opera Buffa is a form of comedy. Usually, maids and peasants are the jokesters, and they keep running around playing tricks on their employers! You'll likely get a good laugh from attending one of these shows!

This genre originated in Naples in the mid-18th century, and it actually developed from intermezzi, or interludes, that were performed as a palette cleanser of sorts during the acts of serious, and sometimes very tragic, operas of the day.

Generally speaking, Opera Buffas focus on two groups of characters: There was a comic group of males and females and at least two lovers, if not more. All of the dialogue was sung, and the operatic finale eventually evolved into this art form.

Mozart penned a famous opera entitled The Marriage of Figaro, and Rossini was a popular composer in the genre, writing phenomenal works such as The Barber of Seville.

Opera Verismo

In short, Opera Verismo is realism. This form of art can be incredibly cathartic, and even shocking at times, but they say truth is stranger than fiction for a very good reason! This genre flourished during the last decade of the 19th century, although some popular operas were written during the 20th century as well, and, believe it or not, it actually originated from French realism.

Verismo is filled with evil characters and violent acts, which, unfortunately, mirror the realities of the past and the present in more ways than one.

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Musically, this genre is strewn with many vocal stylings, including solo declamations and emotionally heavy melodies and harmonies, which were most suitable to the storylines they accompanied.

There are many masterpieces in this genre. In fact, some would say there are even too many to count. Some truly phenomenal Opera Verismos include Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana and Rustic Chivalry, both penned in 1890. I gioielli Della Madonna (translated as The Jewels of Madonna) is a modern masterpiece, crafted by the great Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari.

Tosca, created by the famed Giacomo Puccini, is one of the rare productions that was deeply historical in this genre: It portrays the gruesome nature of living in Rome during Napoleon's invasion!


This tale is indeed a romantic one, rife with all of the passion that the Italians are known for across the globe. It follows Floria Tosca, a reckless opera singer filled who is bound and determined to save her lover, Cavaradossi from the cruel police chief of Sparta.

It is a tale filled with tragedy and jealousy, not to mention a great deal of love, and it is a favorite among many.


Operetta is a wonderful genre that combines speech with song. It's a good fit for people who are new to opera but still want to expand their musical horizons. Once you dip your toes into the metaphorical waters of operetta, chances are you will not want to leave any time soon.

In fact, this genre originated with the tradition of popular theatrical forms of the day that flourished from the 16th to 18th century, including commedia dell'arte, the vaudeville of France, and an English ballad opera. Operetta was officially created in the 19th century, and it was used to refer to plays that were generally quite hilarious and sprinkled with generous amounts of music throughout.

There is something about music that soothes the soul and brings everyone together, even if only for one night. Our world needs more unity, and opera is one way to achieve that, even if it's just for a short while.

These musical-drama performances are quite incredible, and they are a good way to acquaint yourself with opera if you love musicals but haven't quite familiarized yourself with the art of opera because it all seems rather foreign to you, and it may not feel the same attraction to it as you do to other genres.

When it comes to musical flavorings, operetta tends to have a sentimental and romantic plot dispersed with songs, orchestral music, and elaborate dancing scenes.

While quite a few writers achieved great things in this genre, there is one man in particular that stands out, and his name is Jacques Offenbach, and he is especially famous for his work entitled Orphee aux enders (or Orpheus in the Underworld) which was penned in 1858. He is also quite well-known for a satiric commentary he wrote pertaining to contemporary Parisian life and its many customs.

There are many fabulous masterpieces in this form, including The Mikado and The Town of Titipu.

During the end of the 19th century, the French style of operetta became less satiric: It was more melodious and romantic, containing a greater air of sentimentality. It stressed elegance over parody.

© 2022 Daniella Cressman

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