Scholars have not only long ignored nineteenth-century comic opera, but have also generally considered it as wholly different from and perhaps inferior to serious opera. This view in part reflects the dominance of a single figure, Giuseppe Verdi, who ever since the mid-nineteenth century has been considered the most important composer on the Italian operatic scene. That all but two of his works are serious operas has led scholars of this period to focus almost exclusively on serious opera, leaving a void in our knowledge of comic opera in the period between Don Pasquale (1843) and Falstaff (1893).
The present study examines five comic operas by Antonio Cagnoni, Carlo Pedrotti, Federico Ricci, and Lauro Rossi, all of whom were among the most active and popular composers during the period 1840 to 1870 and could claim at least one success in the world of comic opera. A further indication of their popularity is that each contributed to the Messa per Rossini (1869), the collaborative Requiem composed to commemorate the death of Rossini. The operas selected for study are as follows: Cagnoni's Don Bucefalo (1847); Rossi's Il domino nero (1849); Ricci's Crispino e la comare (1850), a collaboration with his brother Luigi; Pedrotti's Tutti in maschera (1856); and Pedrotti's Guerra in quattro (1861; rev. 1862). The treatment of each work focuses on various musical, textual, and dramaturgical elements, with special attention to the use of contemporary conventions of Italian opera. The results suggest that the long-held view that comic and serious opera of this period are two separate and distinct genres is misleading.