Techniques | Operetta | Turn of the Century | Opera
Operetta, from its beginnings with Jacques Offenbach (1819–80) in France during the 1850s, had reached a high point by the turn of the century. When Johann Strauss II (1825–99) moved from the dance hall to the opera theatre, the Austrians had found an equal to the famous Frenchman. The English played their part with the inseparable (if often tempestuous) partnership between W. S. Gilbert (1836–1911) and Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842–1900). In Spain, too, the revival of the zarzuela brought local colour to the genre.
In contrast to the increasing proportions of opera, operetta was a light bite, a sometimes spicy and always fashionable snack. Its subjects were topical, reflecting contemporary tastes and fashions but as willing to satirize as to glamorize. Operetta rapidly grew from its origins as speech with a few songs to a form that rivalled full-blown opera. Franz Lehár (1870–1948) showed clear awareness of Puccini in his scores, and the latter repaid the compliment in the composition of his operetta La rondine (1917). By the first decade of the twentieth century, operetta had become a subtle, flexible form, capable of grasping and manipulating the audience’s emotional responses. At the same time, it remained true to its roots and was always light in tone, full of melodic vitality and sparklingly inventive.
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