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PHILHARMONICA. International Music Journal

Operetta and the Formation of Popular Music Culture

Voloshko Svetlana Viktorovna

PhD in Art History

Associate Professor at the Department of Musicology of Saratov State Conservatoire n.a. L.V. Sobinov

410012, Russia, Saratovskaya oblast', g. Saratov, prosp. im. Kirova S. M., 1
Other publications by this author










Abstract: This article focuses on the initial stage of the formation of popular music culture in the first half of the 19th century. It analyzes the historical, social, and cultural context of the emergence of one of the earliest genres of popular culture—operetta—in France and Great Britain. In these countries, popular public entertainment (cafe-chantant, public concerts, music halls, burlesque theatres) created the prerequisites for the emergence of not only a new genre but also a new type of culture. Jacques Offenbach, William Schwenck Gilbert, and Arthur Sullivan became the founders of the original versions of this genre, which were based on national music and theatre traditions. The scientific novelty of the research is determined by the fact that the emergence of the operetta is described as a natural result of cultural and historical development; the author outlines the similar factors that spawned a different and, at the same time, internally close phenomena. Operetta, as a popular music phenomenon, filled the gap between opera and the genres of folk theatre, soaking up the merits of both. The novelty of the genre manifested itself both in the peculiarities of the content and the music forms and the new social function, an appeal to a fundamentally new audience that united different social classes and directly influenced the final artistic result.  


William Gilbert, Jacques Offenbach, public concert, café-chantant, burlesque theatre, music hall, mass music culture, operetta, Arthur Sullivan, parody

Nineteenth-century European musical culture is universally recognized and deservedly called the pinnacle in the development of professional musical classics. Great names from the late Ludwig van Beethoven to Pyotr Tchaikovsky, from Carl Maria von Weber to Mikhail Glinka and Richard Wagner, the active development and extreme diversity of genres and their variants, the constant renewal and development of musical thinking – all this is evidence of the realization of the enormous potential accumulated by high art.

Meanwhile, in the shadow of these majestic composers, something else had gradually beginning to assert itself, not claiming greatness and eternity, not striving to embody the high and timeless, engaged in everyday life and entertainment for the venerable (and not very) public.

In the twentieth century, mass music culture has become a powerful stream that includes an incalculable variety of trends, styles, and genres that simultaneously compete and interact with each other. In recent decades, musicology in general and Russian music science has been paying more and more attention to these processes and, as a rule, turning to the consideration of new phenomena, trying to comprehend the current situation. At the same time, musicologists strive to identify and evaluate the genesis of this phenomenon, such are the works of V. Syrov, T. Cherednichenko, A. Zucker, E. Myakotin, A. Vinichenko, etc., but there are many blank spots in this area. This article's relevance is due to its analysis of the historical, social, and cultural prerequisites for the formation of one of the earliest genres of mass music: the operetta.

The novelty of the work is connected with the fact that the birth of the operetta appeared as a natural result of cultural and historical development. Similar factors are revealed that gave rise to simultaneously different and internally similar phenomena. The processes that led to this result were not just similar and expected, but they confirm the regularity of the maturation of mass culture. This article reveals the commonality of the processes that naturally formed such a genre and, as a result, laid the foundation for a new type of culture.

They were prepared by the historical events at the end of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century: revolutions and wars that changed the life of Europe. The most dynamic changes occurred in the two powers that emerged from the Napoleonic Wars: one, victorious Britain, and the other, the loser, France.

By the mid-nineteenth century, Britain was becoming one of the world's strongest powers. During the war, the country was forced to increase production, inevitably leading to the industrial revolution, which changed the face of British society. The rapid growth of cities and the development of machine production significantly increased small and medium-sized businesses, forming a powerful layer of the large and middle bourgeoisie plus the urban intelligentsia.

Beginning with the revolutionary events of 1789, France also experienced an extremely turbulent period of history during the nineteenth century, involving other European states in its orbit.

The Second French Empire (1852−1870), associated with the partial restoration of Bonapartist foundations, was, on the one hand, a period of active colonial expansion, the growth of financial capital, and, consequently, a layer of the big bourgeoisie, on the other, a rollback from the gains of the revolution of 1848 (the prohibition of political clubs, restrictions on the freedom of the press, the closure of the opposition press).

The position of the aristocracy, which for a long time generally served as the guardian of the cultural tradition, changed. Its representatives, whose ranks were considerably thinned during the French bourgeois revolution, deprived of their former privileges, faded into the background, but the former shopkeepers and merchants who became bankers declared themselves more and more loudly in all spheres of public life. With their financial power, they also had an impact on the overall cultural situation. A new social stratum was emerging – rentiers who had earned substantial incomes without making the slightest effort to do so. These people, who were very far from the former aristocracy in terms of education, upbringing, and artistic tastes, nevertheless had the opportunity to broadcast their requests and influence the situation as a whole, forcing themselves to be taken into account one way or another.

Both in Britain and France, this layer of the nouveau riche [1] (the new rich) needed a musical culture appropriate to their tastes and aesthetic needs. This means playwrights and composers were faced with the task of adapting the language of the existing "high art" for a new listener, simplifying it, making it accessible to the understanding and perception of the new general public.

In part, such a public request existed earlier and even found a response. Various forms of relative mass entertainment enjoyed considerable popularity.

Britain, at the turn of the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries, lived an unusually rich musical life. Unlike the continental powers, musical activity here was by no means concentrated in the capital. Of course, the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, the Royal Academy of Music [2], and numerous metropolitan music societies [3] set a certain national standard, but other counties did not lag behind: numerous music festivals, bringing together dozens and sometimes hundreds of performers, were held in Hampshire and Winchester, Oxford and Cambridge, Liverpool and Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle. National events such as the choral festivals in Birmingham, which were rivaled, perhaps, only by the Great Music Festival in York (York Grand Musical Festival), both in terms of the number of performers, the quality of soloists, and the income received. Their rivalry fueled public interest (4), which erased social boundaries as the widespread use of music could be observed in all circles of society, including the low-income strata. There was no need for expensive instruments and luxurious halls. The universal passion was choral singing, which included a diverse repertoire from medieval church chants and folk songs to Handel's oratorios and modern operas.

Perhaps, in this respect, the English musical landscape of that time was strikingly different from the French, where the capital was almost an exclusive music center. But in Paris, there were legendary boulevards that can trace their histories back to the 1870s. Thanks to the destruction and reconstruction of the capital's ramparts, one of the oldest, the Boulevard du Temple, gave shelter to numerous boulevard theaters. A Child of the Paris Fairs, the show was guided by the unassuming taste of the crowd [4]. Thanks to Georges-Eugène Haussmann[5], the boulevards formed the center of the French capital in the nineteenth century, and today, it is the center of entertainment for citizens and visitors. Other attractions include café-chantants and restaurants, in which the food was accompanied by concert numbers, verses, sketches, dances, united by the performances of the entertainers [6].

A large part of the audience was made up of the rich, idle, and hard-working people who had invented a unique jargon, a style of conversation built on clever witticisms or unexpected puns, which had become part of the chic life of Paris.

A similar popular entertainment was born in Britain with the advent of the Victorian era [7] – music hall [8]. (8)

They were entertaining performances featuring singers, comedians, dancers and actors, and sometimes jugglers, acrobats, and magicians. It was born out of the concerts that took place in eighteenth-century English city taverns, in which the hall was divided into a stage and a space where the audience sat at tables; expenses were paid for by the sale of alcoholic beverages. Gradually, the stage began to be decorated, a place for a modest piano accompaniment or a small ensemble was taken up by an orchestra, and, eventually, the music hall moved from taverns to luxurious palaces, where complex stage effects were possible.

In the nineteenth century, the demand for entertainment increased due to the rapid growth of the urban population. Under the Theatre Regulation Act of 1843, [9] drinking and smoking were permitted in music halls, which was prohibited in other theatres (7, 39). Accordingly, it attracted a certain sort of working-class and middle-class audience.

Entertainment in these halls included a wide range of musical performances, including ballads and other popular songs, minstrel shows, opera excerpts, and comic skits and monologues (dramatic performances were only allowed at the so-called licensed Royal theatres of Drury Lane and Covent Garden). Among the spectators, at a separate table, was the "chairman," often a former actor, who directed the course of events. The audience took an active part, joining in the songs during the choruses, exchanging remarks with the chairman. Although the consumption of hot drinks brought considerable income, by the end of the century, it was "replaced": the stage was fenced off with a curtain, and drinks were limited to bars in the back of the hall. Nevertheless, the popularity of music halls grew, businesses expanded, and theaters opened all over the country, attracting not only a mass audience but also famous performers. For the first time in England, excerpts from Faust by Charles Gounod were performed at Canterbury Hall. In the second half of the century, the Alhambra and the Empire became famous for their productions of ballets, which helped to revive interest in this genre, which at that time had faded. Looking a little into the future, we note that it was on music hall stages in the early twentieth century that Ruggero Leoncavallo and Pietro Mascagni conducted their most famous operas, and Leoncavallo wrote the Zingaro (Gypsies, 1912) for such a theater.

But the most typical of the repertoire were popular songs, which quickly spread across the country thanks to music publications. They were not distinguished by high artistic merits; it was enough to have masterfully composed poems and easy-to-remember music for the work to become a success in the hands of a good artist. It should be emphasized that for fans of this genre, the performer was more important than the identity of the author of the lyrics or music.

Public concerts and mass entertainment have become characteristic features of the musical life of European capitals.

In Paris, the so-called promenade concerts [11] on the Champs-Elysees were extremely popular. They were conducted by the then famous Philippe Musard [12]. The entrance fee was low enough that even a humble citizen could take part in these entertainments. In addition to dancing, the program also included popular classical tunes, which were included in the musical routine of the expanded audience.

Musard's rival was considered to be Louis-Antoine Jullien [13], who reigned in the Jardin Turc ("Turkish Garden") [14]. He deliberately combined different genres and styles in the program, using fragments of famous operas. (2, 295) [15]

For the English, something very similar was available – music in gardens and parks. In London, they have been open to the public since at least the time of the Stuarts, flourishing in the eighteenth century, and remained popular in the following century. One of the most famous "pleasure gardens," Vauxhall Park, embodied the idea of a rural paradise on the outskirts of the capital. The entrance fee (one guinea) was affordable for the middle class but, as in Paris, cut off the poor. A certain standard program was developed in the 1890s. The program, divided into two sections, included 12 to 20 numbers and was very diverse: solo arias and ensembles, couplets and choirs, vaudevilles and even small operas. All tastes were taken into account; both "old" music (Arcangelo Corelli, George Frideric Handel, Johann Sebastian Bach) and "modern" music (Joseph Haydn) sounded, popular and serious, spiritual and secular. Most of the composers and performers were English; in fact, the pleasure gardens became an institution where English music developed. Especially popular were the songs. They were written in a simple ballad form, which was gradually enriched with dramatic operatic elements.

It should be noted that the entertaining nature of these productions did not exclude the performance of rather complex works in terms of content and form – operas and cantatas. Visitors to Vauxhall enjoyed not only opera pasticcios but also, say, Rossini's masterpieces.

Instrumental music, as a rule, consisted of overtures of famous operas and Handel's oratorios, Mannheim and Haydn's symphonies, but organ works were also a special highlight (the popularity of the organ was extraordinary; in Vauxhall, the organ was opened in the middle of the eighteenth century).

Both in Britain and France, such public musical entertainment formed a new mixed audience, distinguished by a multiplicity and a mixture of tastes unknown before in history, which fully met the definition of "mass" and was fundamentally different from the refined audience of "official" theater halls.

At the same time, the concept of "mass" is inextricably linked to modern media, which increases the scale of impact on the audience a thousandfold. Of course, their development in the middle of the nineteenth century is incomparable with the present times because we are talking about the stage of the birth of mass art. Meanwhile, we can not underestimate the role of the press, newspapers, and magazines, which experienced rapid flourishing during this period. In the 1930s in France, the journalist Émile de Girardin created the publication Almanach de France,built on new, modern principles and achieved incredible success, bringing the circulation to a million copies. Small daily newspapers like Le Figaro, Le Petit Journal later Le Journal had a combined circulation of more than four million. It was an entertainment press that covered Parisian life, so there was room for theatrical premieres, pamphlets and feuilletons, critical articles, and funny cartoons, for example, on Hector Berlioz or Jacques Offenbach.

A curious situation in this regard had developed in Britain because, along with the usual press, specialized newspapers and magazines appeared very early on. The musical life resonated in the solid national The Times [16], so as in the local press (The Staffordshire Sentinel, Glasgow Herald), specialized publications were also popular. So, in 1828, a magazine appeared, The Athenaeum of London, which included the section 'Musical Gossip,' where articles on significant music events were posted. The critics were distinguished by their impartiality, high quality, and preference was given to publications like The Athenaeum (1, 459). The oldest continuously published music magazine in the world was founded in 1844, The Musical Times. In general, more than a dozen publications, weekly or monthly, covered the musical life of Britain in a very diverse way, including issues of modern music theory, historical essays, biographical articles, reviews of concerts and operas performed in London and other European cities, reviews of published research, various sheet music, music news, and advertising. (4, 327–328)

All the factors mentioned above indicate that there were sufficient conditions for the birth of a qualitatively new phenomenon: operetta as a harbinger of mass culture.

The similarity of the processes confirms the non-randomness of what was happening in the two countries. Moreover, they formed what can be defined as a proto-genre, a proto-operetta. In France, this corresponds with the work of Florimond Hervé [17], and in Britain – burlesque theater.

Hervé's activities were consistent with the name of the theater he opened in 1855: Folies-Nouvelles. The one-act productions typical of the early period are extremely eccentric. They largely followed the traditions of fairground farce with its risky jokes, combined with the brilliance of café-chantant. The topicality of the content and fashionable dance rhythms, the freedom of improvisational communication with the audience, and easy-to-hear verses were enthusiastically received. Although Hervé is called one of the founders of operetta, perhaps, we can say that he outlined many features of the future genre. Some of the "immaturity" of the result is explained by the conditions in which the composer had to work. According to strict laws, particularly the decree of Napoleon of 1802, the Parisian theaters were divided based on the works of which genre they were performed. Hervé's theater was one of those stage venues where it was possible to stage one-act plays with the participation of only two talking characters; all the other characters were depicted with the help of pantomime. These restrictions were lifted only in the 1860s, but the quirkiness and ingenuity [18] inherent in Hervé's early writings have been preserved in subsequent works.

Hervé created what may be called a parody type of operetta; the libretto written by himself was overflowing with witticisms, caricatures, and funny situations, while the object of the parody was a specific production that was popular at the moment. The best operettas are Shot Through the Eye, Le Petit Faust, and parody changelings of the operas of Rossini and Gounod. In parodies, majestic characters turned into characters of everyday comedy, used tabloid jargon, got into deliberately ridiculous situations, satirical poems were sung to pathos melodies. The concrete performance seemed to turn inside out. The success of such productions was incredible.

In the Britain of Queen Victoria, external prudery, strictness of etiquette, and morality paradoxically coexisted with entertainment, surprising with its extravagance and looseness. If Hervé was an eccentric loner in France, British composersworked en masse in the genre of burlesque. This is a form of parody in which a well-known opera, ballet, or play of classical theater was transformed into a comedy, usually musical, often very risky in style, mocking the original work's theatrical and musical conventions and styles, quoting or imitating its text or music.

Burlesque (like Hervé's writings) tended to use as lofty and serious models as possible: history (Guy Fawkes, Lucrezia Borgia), mythology, or historical legends (Medea, Ivanhoe), classical literature or Shakespearean drama. It followed the appearance of almost every major opera, and it is not surprising that the British also could not pass up Gounod's Faust, responding with a production of George Halford's Faust and Marguerite (1853).

By the 1880s, almost every truly popular opera had become the subject of burlesque. As a rule, the performances appeared after the opera's premiere or its successful revival and remained in the repertoire often for a month or longer. The popularity of stage burlesque, in general, and opera burlesque, in particular, seems to be due to the way it entertained a diverse audience and how it absorbed and digested the circus and carnival atmosphere of public Victorian London. (7, 46)

And indeed, the British premieres of the Troubadour (1855) and La Traviata (1856) by Giuseppe Verdi were quickly followed by British burlesque performances (two based on the first opera and as many as five based on the second!) (7, 49). In the history of burlesque, you can find reworkings of operas by Vincenzo Bellini, Georges Bizet, Gaetano Donizetti, Charles Gounod, George Frideric Handel, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Gioachino Rossini, Richard Wagner, and Carl Maria von Weber. "Burlesque mixed together arias and popular couplets, original and quoted music," and put "new words to well-known melodies, turning the whole into a kind of pasticcio."

The inventor of the burlesque style is considered to be James Robinson Planché (1796–1880), the author of Weber's libretto Oberon; he dominated the genre for a generation. He was distinguished by the refinement and showiness of his plays, the desire to avoid absurdity, inconsistency in the plots, and the coarse "bodily" humor found in the works of later playwrights. William Schwenck Gilbert, the future creator of English operetta, gave a new quality to burlesque. His first dramatic work, Dulcamara, or The Little Duck and the Great Quack (1866), became a successful burlesque based on Donizetti's Love Potion. All in all, Gilbert's five operatic burlesques prepared a qualitative breakthrough for a new genre. As he turned to original stories, the internal logic of events determined the absurdity in them, satire replaced parody, and there were no ridiculous disguises and clowning. All this provided a solid basis for complex musical scores.

Unfortunately, not all creators of burlesque theater followed the example of Planché and Gilbert. Much more often, success was achieved at the expense of increased eccentricity, lush scenery, rude jokes, entertainment, and the performance of female roles by men and vice versa (although the appearance of attractive women in pantyhose on stage even gave piquancy to plays that were not prone to obscenity). Gilbert had this saying: "The answer to the question of whether burlesque claims to be art is this: it all depends on the quality. A bad burlesque is as far from true art as a bad picture. But burlesque in its highest development requires high professionalism, and in this sense, Aristophanes or Rabelais were true professionals of burlesque." (7, 62)

Both Hervé's compositions and burlesques were addressed to the widest possible audience. The more educated public could appreciate the subtle parody and allusions to what was recognized as exemplary and serious, and the middle class enjoyed jokes, clowning, and couplets.

The processes in France and Britain clearly had similarities, but they are colored by the national specifics that make the formation of mass art individual for each country. Common to the cultures that created their own version of the operetta is that none of the genres that already existed before its birth was its immediate ancestor or predecessor. The appearance of the operetta signaled a new quality, another step was needed, and it was first made by Jacques Offenbach [19].

He was able to rise above the straightforwardness of Hervé's parodies, creating a modern play based on a well-known classical plot, ridiculing the meanings that traditional plots carried, their pathos, and moralizing message. In the conditions of stringent censorship, typical of the times of the Second French Empire, operetta allowed itself much of what a serious academic theater could not afford.

The best librettists of the time, Henri Meljak and Fromental Halévy, who worked with Offenbach, gave the content familiar features of Parisian life. The hero of Offenbach's operettas was, in fact, the audience itself. The well-known characters of myths and legends became masks that allowed for the expression of modern views and opinions. The heroes of the "ancient" Beautiful Helen " or "Orpheus in Hell" in this sense are no different from their contemporaries in "Parisian life." This "recognizability" was a striking difference between the operetta and the "grand opera," which dominated the privileged stage.

The musical language was modernly new and fresh, filled with rhythms and intonations characteristic of modern Paris. In accordance with the parody of the idea, they intertwined with a high, even grandiloquent operatic style, generating a thundering, explosive mixture that delighted the audience, and the day after the premiere, beautiful, memorable motifs were on everyone's lips.

Offenbach's colossal triumph echoed throughout Europe in the troupe Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens. They toured the capitals in triumph, and in 1865, the French operetta reached London. Beautiful Elena was presented, which shocked the prim Victorian public – a frivolous attitude to family values seemed unacceptable for an era that raised a shield of harsh moral principles. Nevertheless, when Offenbach returned to the British stage a couple of years later, the Prince of Wales, the heir to the throne, himself paid attention to the theater. This time, the audience was shown a milder version of the genre, La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, sparkling with fun, devoid of a parody beginning. Instead, it was closer to a comic opera, thanks to the intricate love turns of the plot.

The works of the French master were a well-deserved success, but with one caveat. Turning to Offenbach's operettas, English theaters remade them almost beyond recognition, adding the usual eccentricity, dancing, and even clowning, enhancing the entertainment character of the performance. (3)

Thus, the British music scene was ready for the emergence of a new genre. Its creators would immediately be two people whose names have been pronounced in one bundle for a century – the playwright William Schwenck Gilbert (1836–1911) the composer Arthur Sullivan (1842–1900) (Gilbert &Sullivan). The results of their collaboration – eleven operettas [20] – would become genre classics. They created their own unique, recognizable style.

Any plot of their operettas defies expectations. Strange things happen, the world is turned upside down, as if by the will of a magician, opposites are mixed, the surreal with the real, the caricature with everyday life, an absolutely incredible story is told with the most imperturbable air.

The confusion that dominates the stage takes shape thanks to the simple but witty text, the lines from operettas have become part of the modern English language. One can meet with the view that, unlike Offenbach, Gilbert's burlesques and operettas lacked a satirical element (3), but this is not the case. Behind the elegant eccentricity, one can hear very sharp attacks on modern English society, including the privileged circles. Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote later: "Gilbert exposed all the ulcers of modern England so that they literally bleed. There is hardly a single joke in The Mikado that refers to Japan, but all the jokes are not to the eyebrow, but the eye of England." (11)

Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas are distinguished by a certain contradiction, which is often characteristic of the best manifestations of mass culture: the elegance and ingenuity of the expressive means are combined with the simplicity and "undemanding" aspect of the technical means. The vocal parts do not require opera training, and there is no need for special virtuosity for those of the orchestra. Apparently, this is the reason that these operettas are equally successfully staged by both professionals and amateurs.

At the same time, for English authors who, like the French, created a parody version of a genre, the object of parody is not a specific production or a well-known plot, but opera as a genre, its musical clichés, and commonplaces. So, for example, in The Pirates of Penzance, there is a parallel with Verdi: the chorus of stealthily creeping robbers brings to mind a number in which it is sung about the need to maintain silence. Moreover, Sullivan's melody is very similar to Verdi's style. There are many such references, and their range is very wide: from Charles Gounod to Richard Wagner, from George Frideric Handel to Carl Maria von Weber. Opera techniques can also be parodied as such; for example, a tongue twister, which originates from opera buffa, characterizes roles that are distinguished by special pomposity and stupidity.

It is noteworthy that the creators of the operetta kept up with the times and took into account, and moreover, actively applied the same techniques as the real opera, sometimes even ahead of it in their search. In general, this is the desire for intonation and thematic unification of the musical whole (the thematic arches in Beautiful Elena or pentatonic leitintonation in The Mikado), the active, effective role of the choir (the riot of the Olympian celestials in Orpheus in the Underworld or the chorus of trembling policemen in The Pirates of Penzance), dramatic ensembles, developing the Mozart tradition and built on the interweaving of opposing emotions …

Operetta did not just follow the "mainstream"; it was at the forefront of innovative searches, and this was not only about the musical side. It changed musical theater as a whole, bringing efficiency and new requirements for the performer because possessing only vocal techniques was no longer enough. The genre required an accentuated brightness, a sharp intonation, and a high technique of vocal and stage interpretation. Any number had to be played; therefore, the artist must be equally fluent in both singing and acting skills and possess the technique of improvisation, which allowed for the establishment of contact with the audience almost instantaneously.

Actors, sharpening the character's features, caricatured the role, giving it grotesque features. This was how the parts would develop in the operetta and later be prepared. A special effect was created by the contrast between almost everyday decorations, realistic makeup, and sharp, grotesque patterns of speech, plastic, and facial expressions.

An undoubted innovation in theater, in general, was the role that Gilbert took – this is the role of the director in the modern sense of the word. He carefully prepared for each new work, making models of the stage, actors, and scenery, designing each action and fragment of the production in advance, scrupulously working on the text, intonation, and plasticity during rehearsals. Thanks to him, a well-coordinated ensemble was formed, which pushed the star actor from the dominant position. The director began to determine the appearance of the performance as a whole. The idea was that no matter how absurd the situations and actions of the characters, the character had to behave in accordance with the internal logic of the character. Gilbert oversaw the production of his operettas, including when productions resumed after some time. All this did not correspond to the traditions of nineteenth-century theater. The author was practically deprived of the opportunity to influence how his plays were embodied.

It should be noted that, despite the overwhelming success with the public, the critics reacted to this reckless competitor to the opera quite harshly. In La Grande Encyclopédie "(The Great Encyclopedia), published from 1886 to 1902 during the formation of the genre, you can find the following definition: "The term 'operetta' is completely new, and the concept it expresses is difficult to clearly define. Operetta is nothing more than a comic opera, and if there is any difference between these two genres for those who use this term, it is in the style and musical manner of the work and not in the form and methods of expression. Like comic opera, operetta alternates musical pieces with dialogue. The proportion of these elements, if it is not the same with modern opera, in which dialogue occupies a more modest place, is almost the same as the comic opera of the classical period. The plot of an operetta is usually more fun and free. In modern operettas, this gaiety and freedom usually transcend the boundaries of good taste, and many of these works depict treacherous situations and allow rudeness in the dialogue. As for the musical value of the operetta, for the most part, it is mediocre. Sometimes the operetta music does not rise above the level of the music of the café-concert stage. Most of the musical pieces in the operetta take on the character of arias of the dansant order and unfold within minimal limits, without any development, on hackneyed rhythms, building on the flattest and most vulgar modulations. Truly buffoonish inspiration, well-served wit in comedic dialogue, inspired and witty play – this is what makes the merit of operetta actors. But these qualities, however venerable, have nothing to do with music." (6)

This quotation raises, among other things, the question of the name, notes its novelty, and it is fair to say that there is a problem associated with this term. Obviously, the search for new genre designations for his works was led by Offenbach, among them, you can find opéra bouffe (practically tracing paper from Italian, "comic opera," [opera bouffa] in contrast to the traditional French opéra-comique), and opéra bouffon (literally "jester's opera"), and comédie-orérette, and opérette bouffe, and finally, just opérette. Chronological regularity in these definitions can not be found; it is instead in the scale of the works – in most cases, the author refers to the opera as larger, not one-act productions.

Similarly, in connection with the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, both the definition of "comic opera" and "operetta" are used with almost the same frequency. What should I prefer? Which term is more accurate? As can be seen from the lengthy quote from the French Encyclopedia, the attitude to the new phenomenon in the nineteenth century, as a whole, was not so much negative as much as dismissive. Opera has gained a solid reputation throughout its history, and composing an opera was a serious and solid matter. Sullivan felt dissatisfied with the success of his operettas, and in his later period, turned to oratorio (a genre revered after Handel) and opera. At the Queen's insistence, he composed a real romantic opera, Ivanhoe (1891), based on Sir Walter Scott's novel about medieval England, and it was to be truly "big" and serious. [21] But despite the lavish production and performance of opera on the continent, the criticism was relentless, and Sullivan felt trapped in a reservation of "light" music.

It must be remembered that the designation "operetta" ("little opera") came into use long before the nineteenth century. Popular in Austro-German culture, it usually referred to samples that differed in small scale and less ambitious content. Such an offshoot of the opera genre can be attributed, perhaps, to the works of Johann Strauss II, which retain the typical content of a small comic opera (a funny case from life), the reliance on everyday dance music (the waltz), the characteristic compositional and dramatic relief (three acts), opera forms, and a brilliant vocal style.

By the 1870s, comic opera was almost a thing of the past (Verdi's lyrical comedy Falstaff does not correspond to the genre variant). The operetta offered the audience something similar but certainly new, similar in terms of content, but not characteristic of the comic opera both earlier and later. It is also similar in musical forms but more like verses and songs than arias and ariosos. At the same time, the relationship between text and music, as well as the social function of the emerging genre, is fundamentally new. In operetta, the role of the text is much more important than in opera, even in late-romantic opera. This is an independent layer and of very high quality. Meljak, Halévy, and Gilbert were successful playwrights; their texts are a full-fledged drama, "adapted" to music.

In general, the novelty of the operetta is manifested not only in the content (parody), structure (conversational dialogues with a minimum of recitatives), drama (interaction of vocals and plastics), or musical forms (verses and songs) but in style, whether it is music, spoken text or the manner of acting. The important thing is not "what" but "how," which creates a qualitatively new artistic whole.

As for the social function, it is expressed in the formation of a new audience, more extensive and heterogeneous, compared to opera, which more actively expresses the attitude to the "consumed product." Its reaction is impossible to ignore. The tastes must be taken into account to achieve success.

This marked the beginning of a process that would clearly manifest itself in the twentieth century – the separation of the spheres of "serious" and "light music," while belonging to the latter's creation has not yet become a kind of stigmata. Contemporary composers often highly appreciated the work of their colleagues who worked in popular music. For example, Strauss's work was appreciated by Wagner and Brahms, Berlioz and Liszt, and Schumann wrote: "Two things on earth are very difficult: first, to achieve fame, and second, to keep it. Only true masters can do this: from Beethoven to Strauss, each in their own way." (3)

The legacy of Offenbach and Sullivan, who created original versions of the same genre, laid the foundation for mass art, and they were brought together by the common qualities inherent in this musical sphere: a close connection and reliance on national musical and theatrical traditions; a very significant expansion of the audience, its heterogeneity; interaction, up to the fusion of the language of "high" and "low" culture.

To sum up, we can say that operetta, as a phenomenon of mass musical culture, has become, on the one hand, an alternative to "high" examples of art, and on the other hand, an adapter, "translator" of these samples.

It filled the gap that existed between opera and vaudeville, theatrical variety performances, parodies, and other similar genres, which presented a kind of "low" theater, theater for an undemanding, uneducated audience. At the same time, the operetta tried with more or less success to absorb the virtues of both "high" and "low" theater, not giving preference to either, but taking the opportunity to emphasize either a commitment to high feelings and ideals or mischief, even frivolity and gaiety, depending on how the composer saw it all.

[1] This term will be established and become generally accepted during this historical period.

[2] The oldest musical institution of higher education in Great Britain (1822).

[3] The Philharmonic Society, the Ancient Concerts, The Madrigal Society, the Vocal Concerts, the Festival of the Sons of the Clergy, the Society of British Musicians, the New Philharmonic Society, the Sacred Harmonic Society, the British Concerts, the City Amateur Concerts, and others.

[4] Strict laws determined this state of affairs. In 1680, by decree of Louis XIV, the Comédie-Française was created. He had the privilege of selecting plays. There was also a royal ban on other theatres, including more than two singers and more than two instrumentalists in their performances. This did not apply to the Royal Academy of Music, headed by Jean-Baptiste Lully. Napoleon I added the Odéon (the Empress' Theatre), the Paris Opera, the Opéra-Comique, the boulevard theatres of Goethe, the Ambiguille-Comique, the Variety Theatre, and Vaudeville to the privileged theatres.

[5] Georges-Eugène Haussmann (1809-1891) was a French statesman and urban planner who defined the modern look of Paris, including the square Etoile (Star) with a triumphal arch in the center.

[6] The most famous of them is the Café de Paris.

[7] The Victorian era is usually the period of the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901.

[8] It is likely the term originated later, in 1848, when Surrey opened in London (Surrey Music Hall), and in later years, the Canterbury Arms, Middlesex, Collins, Wilton, and finally the most famous, the Oxford Hall (1861). (9)

[9] The Theatres Act of 1843 limited the powers of the Lord Chamberlain (whose duties included supervising and censoring functions) so that he could prohibit the performance of plays only in cases where, in his opinion, it was consistent with the preservation of good manners, decency or public peace. (12) It also gave local authorities additional powers to license theaters, breaking the monopoly of patent theaters and encouraging the development of popular theater entertainment, including music halls.

[10] The minstrel show is one of the earliest forms of American musical theater, in which white performers appeared in blackface and performed a diverse repertoire that included, among other things, adapted tunes "overheard" from black musicians.

[11] In some ways, they resemble the order in the English music hall because social interaction and dancing were supplemented with food and drinks.

[12] Philippe Musard (1792−1859) was a French composer and conductor, the author of numerous dance pieces, famous for his eccentric behavior at the conductor's desk. (2, 294 )

[13] Louis-Antoine Jullien (1812–1860) was a French composer and conductor. The beginning of his concert activity is connected with Paris, but he achieved his greatest success in London, where 24 seasons of promenade concerts were held under his leadership.

[14] Le Jardin Turc (Turkish Garden) – a café with a garden on the Boulevard du Temple, where music and comic scenes were played.

[15] A curious fact: Julien celebrated his arrival in London with a performance of Beethoven's Symphonies.

[16] Originally published in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register in Great Britain.

[17] Florimond Hervé (Louis Auguste Florimond Ronger) (1825–1892) was a French composer, conductor, actor, and author of more than 120 operettas.

[18] For example, the presence of a singing corpse on the stage because it can not be called a "character."

[19] Jacques Offenbach (1819–1880) was a French composer, conductor, and cellist. The creator of French operetta, he wrote 98 original works of this genre.

[20] Almost all of them are still repertory, but the most popular were: H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), The Pirates of Penzance (1879), The Mikado (1885), The Gondoliers (1889).

[21] An obvious parallel is the appearance of The Tales of Hoffman by the late Offenbach as a full-fledged opera.