Comscore

re: Operetta and Musical

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musicalkid
Leading Actor
joined:1/24/06
Operetta and Musical
Posted: 6/17/06 at 01:13pm
I was recently approached with the question:
"What is the difference between an Operetta and a musical?"

on the surface, very easy question. but trying to answer it wasn't that easy.
i'm trying to find "exact" defenitions. without using exaples of specific shows
(e.g. hammerstein and kern wrote operettas too, les miserables might be considered as a modern operetta, even sweeney todd was produced in opera houses)
i mean, what IS the big difference between SHOW BOAT(1927) and A NEW MOON(1926)?

trying to stick to facts i will say:
musicals were late 1920s and on.
operettas were most popular in late 1800s.

musicals are usually rooted and origined in america (wrtiter based mostly)
and operettas are usually western europe (germany, UK)

COULD ANYONE GIVE A SHARPER DIFFERENCE? IS THERE ONE?
Bring Disney's "Der Glockner Von Notre Dame" To Broadway!
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Updated On: 6/17/06 at 01:13 PM
Just_John Profile Photo
Just_John
Broadway Legend
joined:4/20/06
re: Operetta and Musical
Posted: 6/17/06 at 01:15pm
Isn't on Operetta strictly music/singing and a Musical is spkoen dialouge as well as musical numbers.
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ljay889
Broadway Legend
joined:8/4/04
re: Operetta and Musical
Posted: 6/17/06 at 01:15pm
Sondheim considers Sweeney an Operetta, though there is some dialogue.
#sadandtransparent
SporkGoddess Profile Photo
SporkGoddess
Broadway Legend
joined:7/27/05
re: Operetta and Musical
Posted: 6/17/06 at 01:18pm
No, that's a fallacy. Even operas can have spoken dialogue. Such as Die Zauberflote and Carmen.

For instance, Ariadne auf Naxos (which has spoken dialogue) is considered an operetta, even though most could consider it an opera.

I have no idea what the difference between the three is. I suppose it might be that operettas are comical, shorter, and opera/operettas focus more on the singing than on the story. It might also be range... for instance, a lyric coloratura soprano role in a musical like Sweeney only goes up to C6 or so. In operettas, like Candide, lyric coloratura Cunegonde goes up to E6.

Jimmy, what are you doing here in the middle of the night? It's almost 9 PM!
Updated On: 6/17/06 at 01:18 PM
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SweetQintheLights
Broadway Legend
joined:6/12/05
re: Operetta and Musical
Posted: 6/17/06 at 01:29pm
According to my music appreciation book:

Operetta, or comic opera, combines song, spoken dialogue, and dance with sophisticated musical techniques. Examples are the operettas of the Englishmen W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, such as The Mikado,

Musical is a type of theater that fuses script, acting, and spoken dialogue with music, singing, and dancing with scenery, costumes, and spectacle.

The American musical embraces a variety of styles, yet it is a distict type of musical theater, seperate from opera. In contrast to opera, it tends to use simpler harmonies, melodies, and structures; it has more spoken dialogue, and it's songs have a narrower pitch range.

***TAKEN DIRECTLY FROM "MUSIC, AN APPRECIATION"***
"How bout a little black dress?"~hannahshule "I have a penis, not a vagina." ~munkustrap178
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The Distinctive Baritone
Broadway Legend
joined:8/28/04
re: Operetta and Musical
Posted: 6/17/06 at 02:05pm
As someone who knows a decent amount about all three genres (musicals, operas, and operettas), I'd have to say it has mostly to do with the style of music, in addition to the amount of spoken dialogue. Musicals and operettas will have entire scenes of entirely spoken dialogue, whereas most operas don't, although there will often be at least some (as in, say, "The Magic Flute"). However, the dialogue in operas is usually quite short, whereas in musicals and operettas there can be lengthy stretches during which there is no music whatsoever.

However, the major difference is, I think, the style of music. Whereas musicals generally reflect the style of popular music of the day, operas and operettas are written with classical or classical-style music, with more "legit" singing. The main difference between opera and operetta is that operetta is usually "lighter," both in terms of the music and the style of singing required.

I might edit this later for more thoroughness but I hope this will do for now.
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elmore3003
Leading Actor
joined:3/31/04
re: Operetta and Musical
Posted: 6/17/06 at 02:47pm
I'm going to jump way out on a limb and say that American musical theatre has always consisted of three forms of musical theatre: operetta, musical comedy, and revue. These forms are always with us, no matter how much the nomenclature changes. "Operetta" derives from the French operette, "little opera, and opera comique, a form of popular opera with spoken dialogue: CARMEN, the original form of FAUST, and several other works that got revised like LAKME, were opera comique. Meanwhile, in Germany, the singspiel - DIE ZAUBERFLOTE, FIDELIO - had spoken dialogue although their musical intentions were much higher than what we would consider "popular" entertainment. Offenbach's operettas and opera bouffes, as well as Gilbert and Sullivan demand higher vocal accomplishment than musical comedy because so much of their origin was in spoofing serious operas: PIRATES OF PENZANCE makes fun of Gounod (FAUST) and Verdi (TROVATORE, especially), while Offenbach's LA BELLE HELENE makes fun of the over-writing of Meyerbeer and Rossini's GUILLAUME TELL.

Musical comedy implies less vocal demands as well as an emphasis on comedy and jokes. In the 1920's, a musical xomedy like OH, KAY! or NO, NO, NANETTE still owed a great deal to operetta with its use of opening chorus, finales and other ensemble work.

In 1903, for instance, you could see:
operetta: Victor Herbert's BABETTE, written for opera star Fritzi Scheff
musical comedy: Victor Herbert's BABES IN TOYLAND
revue: Weber & Fields' comedy troup, vaudeville

1925:
operetta: THE VAGABOND KING, THE DESERT SONG
musical comedy: DEAREST ENEMY
revue: Andre Charlot's revue with music & lyrics by, among others, Noel Coward

1946
operetta: CAROUSEL (a "musical play")
musical comedy: BLOOMER GIRL
revue: CALL ME MISTER

1956
operetta: CANDIDE, perhaps MY FAIR LADY
musical comedy: LI'L ABNER, BELLS ARE RINGING
revue: NEW FACES OF '56, CRANKS

2006
operetta: SWEENEY TODD, LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA
musical comedy: THE DROWSY CHAPERONE
revue: RING OF FIRE

I'm being overly simplistic in this fast analysis, but I think it's a pretty good assessment of the state of the American Musical Theatre.
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whatyouown223
Broadway Legend
joined:1/4/05
re: Operetta and Musical
Posted: 6/17/06 at 02:50pm
I wouldn't call Piazza an operetta, I defintely think it's a straight on musical.
SporkGoddess Profile Photo
SporkGoddess
Broadway Legend
joined:7/27/05
re: Operetta and Musical
Posted: 6/17/06 at 03:10pm
The problem with that is Faust, Carmen, and Lakmé are WIDELY considered operas.
Jimmy, what are you doing here in the middle of the night? It's almost 9 PM!
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elmore3003
Leading Actor
joined:3/31/04
re: Operetta and Musical
Posted: 6/17/06 at 03:52pm
SporkGoddess wrote:
"The problem with that is Faust, Carmen, and Lakmé are WIDELY considered operas."

Yes, but they began with spoken dialogue, and pieces like LA BELLE HELENE, PIRATES OF PENZANCE, THE MERRY WIDOW, and DER FLEDERMAUS are all performed by opera companies these days. In 1942, DIE FLEDERMAUS played on Broadway as ROSALINDA for around 500 performances, with a cast of singers from opera and Broadway: Dorothy Sarnoff who played Rosalinda later played Lady Thiang in THE KING & I.

The final page of a Gilbert & Sullivan score says "End of Opera," and they're often called D'Oyly Carte operas. My point is that there is no simplistic answer to the difference between musical and operetta than there is between a moron and a jerk. I think my reduction of the musical to three basic forms may be open to debate, but it's my observation from 40+ years of theatre going, reading, and listening.
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SporkGoddess
Broadway Legend
joined:7/27/05
re: Operetta and Musical
Posted: 6/17/06 at 04:43pm
Good call. It certainly confuses the heck out of me! I gave up trying to differentiate long ago and just ignore the term "operetta."
Jimmy, what are you doing here in the middle of the night? It's almost 9 PM!
elmore3003 Profile Photo
elmore3003
Leading Actor
joined:3/31/04
re: Operetta and Musical
Posted: 6/17/06 at 05:18pm
SporkGoddess wrote:
"Good call. It certainly confuses the heck out of me! I gave up trying to differentiate long ago and just ignore the term 'operetta.'"

I'll drink to that. I think the vague boundaries between various forms is the wonderful thing about American musical theatre: Rodgers & Hammerstein wrote what they called "musical plays" and Hammerstein was a part of the operetta world with SHOW BOAT, DESERT SONG, NEW MOON and others, and Rodgers' shows with Hart were basically musical comedies, although DEAREST ENEMY and PEGGY-ANN, like the Gershwin musicals, owed a lot to operetta.

Then you get to Kurt Weill, who wrote an operetta KNICKERBOCKER HOLIDAY followed by whatever LADY IN THE DARK is (3 one-act operas?), followed by a musical comedy ONE TOUCH OF VENUS, leading to a "Vaudeville-operetta-musical synthesis LOVE LIFE, followed by an opera STREET SCENE on Broadway! Oy! Here's to diversity!
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frontrowcentre2
Broadway Legend
joined:2/20/05
re: Operetta and Musical
Posted: 6/17/06 at 09:58pm
Of course it confuses the heck out of MOST because we are tying to place pieces in categories and some shows can fit two or more. Musical theatre is such a hybrid artform, which is why I love it.

Traditional operettas required legitimate voices and usually were set in exotic lands. They told stories of Student princes, desert brigades, princesses, kings and queens. Operetta was to grand opera what early musical comedy was to serious drama: a lighter entertainment but not to be taken seriously.

Then Oscar Hammerstein came along and fused the two into one: a musical could have lighter comic moments and still deal with serious characters and situations. Now it is an artform that is unique in its melding of styles.

Back in the 1960s Readers Digest had a 12-LP set called A TREASURY OF GREAT OPERETTAS. ($19 for the set. $23 if you wanted "stereo" records!) It really covered everything: Comic Operas (DIE FLEDERMAUS, A NIGHT IN VENICE); European operettas (GYPSY BARON, COUNTESS MARITZA, A WALTZ DREAM) American operettas (NAUGHTY MARIETTA, ROSE MARIE, THE STUDENT PRINCE, THE DESERT SONG) musicals (NO NO NANETTE, ROBERTA, SHOW BOAT, SONG OF NORWAY), and even Gershwin folk opera PORGY AND BESS. Easch one condensed to one LP side and featuring a mix of legitimate singers (Anna Moffo, Jeanette Scovotti) and Broadway performers (Peter Palmer, conductor Lehman Engle.) Not all of these were technically "operettas" but some shows like SHOW BOAT bridge many styles.

Cast albums are NOT "soundtracks."
Live theatre does not use a "soundtrack." If it did, it wouldn't be live theatre!

I host a weekly one-hour radio program featuring cast album selections as well as songs by cabaret, jazz and theatre artists. The program, FRONT ROW CENTRE is heard Sundays 9 to 10 am and also Saturdays from 8 to 9 am (eastern times) on www.proudfm.com

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nobodyhome
Broadway Legend
joined:4/19/06
re: Operetta and Musical
Posted: 6/18/06 at 12:52am
SporkGoddess, do you remember where heard or read that Ariadne auf Naxos is considered an operetta? It's one of my favorite operas and I've never heard or read anyone describe it as an operetta. Perhaps you're thinking of the first version, when an earlier version of the opera within the opera was presented as the "entertainment" in a production of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme that Max Reinhardt directed? Though even then I don't think that operetta really would have been the right term.

Though it's true that vocal ranges in musicals tend to be less wide than in most operas or operettas, it's not as simple as that. Cunegonde is a high coloratura role. Roles like Tosca or Isolde only go up to a high C. Of course, most leading soprano roles in musicals don't go higher than a G or A. Even Johanna only goes up to an A in her solo music, I believe. If she sings with the sopranos in the choral parts, she'd go up to a high C, but her solo music doesn't go that high.

Personally, just to add more confusion, I don't think of Die Zauberflöte or Carmen as operas but as early musicals, even if not in quite the same way that Pippin, for example, is a musical. Indeed, neither was considered an opera when it was premiered and neither premiered in a theatre devoted to grand opera. Die Zauberflöte actually has a great deal of dialogue if it's done complete, which it rarely is. Less than Oklahoma! but probably a little more than Sweeney Todd (though it also has more music than Sweeney so the balance is on the music).

Carmen gets closer to opera than Zauberflöte does, especially in its last act. So many works are really hybrids and it's tough to define them by any of the terms that we usually use.

I agree with those who say it's more in the eyes of the beholder than anything else.
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SporkGoddess
Broadway Legend
joined:7/27/05
re: Operetta and Musical
Posted: 6/18/06 at 12:58am
Well, I was using lyric coloratura as an example. But for example in musicals a lot of soprano roles can be done by mezzos. And no one in musical theatre seems to care about the fach system, either.

That's another good way to tell: operas/operettas usually aren't microphoned.

As for Ariadne auf Naxnos... y'know, I read it in Wikipedia. So it's probably not true. e_e Lakmé's my favorite opera and I can't believe it's considered an operetta at all.
Jimmy, what are you doing here in the middle of the night? It's almost 9 PM!
Alex LaVelle
Understudy
joined:8/16/05
re: Operetta and Musical
Posted: 6/18/06 at 01:20am
According to the dictionary I just checked:

An Opera is a work that has been numbered in some way and comes from the time when composers numbered their works (ie, Beethoven's symphonies, which are probably the most famous numbered works, though they aren't operas). Opera is the plural of the Latin Opus, meaning work.

An Operetta is lighter than an opera and is not necessarily numbered. It also may deal with more popular subjects.

A Musical is defined as a "play or movie with music", so there's no fine line between a musical and an operetta, so the debate can occur still, but I'd say shows that are vastly predominately sung (Sweeney, Rent, etc) without a lot of dialogue breaking up the music, and which communicate the plot predominately through music would be considered operettas while other works with longer, significant non-singing scenes would be musicals.
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SporkGoddess
Broadway Legend
joined:7/27/05
re: Operetta and Musical
Posted: 6/18/06 at 01:26am
But that is also a faulty definition seeing as how there are modern operas, such as Nixon in China and Susannah.
Jimmy, what are you doing here in the middle of the night? It's almost 9 PM!
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nobodyhome
Broadway Legend
joined:4/19/06
re: Operetta and Musical
Posted: 6/18/06 at 01:34am
Yeah, wikipedia is not necessarily trustworthy.

It's true that classical mezzos can sing most roles that musical theatre people would define as soprano roles, but since mezzos often have a darker sound and musical-theatre sopranos often have a lighter than opera sopranos (and that lighter sound is the sound that the composers had in mind), it's sometimes sounds a bit odd if a legit mezzo sings a musical-theatre soprano role.

And in a way musicals do have the equivalent of fach classifications. No one would cast Rebecca Luker as Rose, even though she could probably sing it. Christine Ebersole sang "Everything's Coming Up Roses" at an Encores benefit, and even some of her fans said that although she could sing it and she can belt, she just doesn't have the right kind of voice.

I don't know about the opus definition. Did Mozart assign his works opus numbers? They later got Kochel numbers, I think because Mozart didn't give them opus numbers (though perhaps I'm wrong that he didn't).

And some modern composers don't give their works opus numbers. Did Bernstein? I don't think so, yet I also don't think that anyone would argue that A Quiet Place isn't an opera.

Regarding microphones: Some modern composers do write works that would have to be described as operas with the expectation that mikes will be used.
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frontrowcentre2
Broadway Legend
joined:2/20/05
re: Operetta and Musical
Posted: 6/18/06 at 11:45am
For many years the "operetta" label was considered box office poison. (KISMET was billed as a "musical Arabian Night" for example.)

Operetta got reputation as something old-fashioned and stodgy. Then something to be parodied as in the off-Broadway hit LITTLE MARY SUNSHINE.


Cast albums are NOT "soundtracks."
Live theatre does not use a "soundtrack." If it did, it wouldn't be live theatre!

I host a weekly one-hour radio program featuring cast album selections as well as songs by cabaret, jazz and theatre artists. The program, FRONT ROW CENTRE is heard Sundays 9 to 10 am and also Saturdays from 8 to 9 am (eastern times) on www.proudfm.com