Comic opera originated from a strand of opera that was characterized by short but highly entertaining scenes which in most cases had funny servants. The comic opera tradition remains to this day. During the 16th century, these comical scenes came in between various acts that constituted serious opera.
Comic opera existed prior to the 17th century. In Italy, it was referred to as Opera Buffa. This Italian version became an outgrowth that of the comic tradition before finally developing into an independent genre. Other various varieties of comic opera apart from this Italian variant are the French Opera Comique, the German Singspiel and the English Ballad Opera.
In its original meaning, comic opera is used to denote a dramatic work of drama that is light or comic in nature, which is often sung and has a very a very happy ending. These forms were introduced into world opera through Italian performances before quickly spreading to other European countries.
When this opera variant first reached France, it became popularly known as Opera Bouffon. In the century that followed, the art form came to be referred to as French Operetta, and Jacques Offenbach rose to become the most accomplished comic opera performer. These two comic forms of opera were quickly exported to other European countries. And hence the Viennese Operetta, the Spanish Zarzuela, the English Ballad and the Savoy Opera were born.
At the beginning, comic operas fitted in well as intermezzos that came in between various acts. Comic opera first grew to become the most famous form of entertainment in the period between 1750 and 1800. Pergolesi was a renowned comic performer whose death evoked comments from the famous French social philosopher, Rousseau.
Italian comic opera was developed even further in the 19th century through the works of people like Gioacchino Rossini whose major masterpieces were La Cenerentola and Barber of Seville which premiered in 1816 and 1817. On the other hand, French comic opera was more or less like the seizure of Italian opera which they baptized by the name Opera Comique. They made it their own through inclusion of many French terms while making compositions.
Comic opera in Germany grew most during the 18th century throughout the country before finally spreading into Vienna, where it became known as Comic Operetta. This type of opera had spoken dialogue that was extremely comical in nature. With time, comic opera developed into a more fully-fledged form of art, with some serious forms being intertwined here and there. The Merry Widow is an example of a comic opera that was produced by Franz Lehar.
The Spanish comic opera of Zarzuela was based on the popular culture of the Spanish theatre. All scenes contained an alternation between sung and spoken verses. Sung verses incorporated a lot of dancing. These forms were short, a feature they retain even today.