Ballad opera in the United States
- Susan L. Porter
- , revised by Kate Van Winkle Keller
A form of popular musical theater (opéra comique) current in the early 18th century, in which spoken dialogue, usually of a humorous or satirical nature, alternated with sung parodies based on pre-existing lyrics to known melodies. John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728) was the first such piece in English, capitalizing on Thomas D’Urfey’s widely popular output of political and personal satire set to popular tunes of the day, both traditional and newly composed. As these songs were used and reused, they carried the original satire with them in the minds of the audiences; thus the selection of tunes was carefully made to enhance each dramatic situation. In England, the genre was first used with considerable success for two purposes: to lampoon Walpole’s government and to mock the popularity of Italian opera among the upper class. With the Licensing Act of 1737, much of this bitter satire disappeared, and after that time the genre became pasticcio musical theater in which previously used songs, parodies of older lyrics and newly composed pieces were interpolated into the dialogue. With familiar music and librettos in English, it became the most popular type of theater....