Operetta has a nature of its own, in the world of theatre. The
composer can choose to tell some of the story like a play, in
spoken words only, but can then make significant use of music.
Music informs the structure of operetta, indicating emotions,
taking the place of speech, commenting on the action, helping
the audience to be cued in to character and plot. Music overlaps
verbal expression of the characters, brings the fiction of the
stage to a reality for the audience through the composer’s
message. Music also has the capability of revealing the characters’
motivations, discovering their inner life and spiritual feelings.
Quite often, in order to expose the emotion in the psyche of a
character, the composer will use a solo instrument to delineate
the characterization. In the score there are often musical reminiscences
and leitmotifs. Reminiscences reprise earlier scenes in the opera,
and tend to be recreated verbatim. On the other hand, leitmotifs
symbolize persons or abstract concepts, and can appear at different
times in different guises.
Operetta is usually divided into three acts. The first act presents
the story and introduces the characters; the second act develops
the plot, with complications and unexpected events; and the third
act is the final solution of the story, often with a very happy
Usually there are four principal actors: the tenor, the soprano,
the soubrette and the fool (who is usually a bass). Sometimes there
are two other subordinate actors. All together they express themselves
in trios, quartets, quintets, and in solos throughout the three
acts. They each sing a ballad, an aria or a song as a duet. Actors
can appear alone on stage, in couples or with the chorus. The chorus
is often incorporated with the corps de ballet.
The ballads tend to express feelings shared with the majority of
the characters, and appear mainly in the last two acts, and always
after a long recitative, as a commentary or with a characterizing
Modern operetta has enjoyed popularity in many countries; after
its glittering birth in mid-19th century France, it was the Viennese
operetta that became most admired and popular. Even today, although
overwhelmed by the “musical,” operetta is widely accepted
and enjoyed. In many countries there is a growing “rediscovery,”
and operetta is very enthusiastically performed in Austria, Germany,
Hungary, France, Italy, and Spain.
The legendary world of operetta has always attracted all kinds of
audiences: those longing for amusement, of getting away from the
reality of everyday life and of partaking of not only the lofty
peaks of “serious” music, but also the kind of music
that amuses in a gay, comic, and sentimental way,
sometimes suffused with a faint melancholy.