operetta (ŏpərĕtˈə) [key], type of light opera with a frivolous, sentimental story, often employing parody and satire and containing both spoken dialogue and much light, pleasant music. In the early 19th-century opéras comiques of Boieldieu, Auber, and Adolphe Adam, there was a growing tendency toward sophistication, preparing the way for Offenbach, who during the French Second Empire created the operetta. The distinction between the operetta and the lighter examples of opéra comique that immediately preceded it is hard to draw; in general the opéra comique makes some appeal to the sentiments, while the French operetta attempts only to amuse. The Viennese operetta, dating from c.1870, did not have the excellent librettists that the French enjoyed; the operettas of Johann Strauss the younger suffered from this defect. Those of Suppé owe much of their virtue to Offenbach's influence. Less distinguished are the products of the early 20th cent., represented by the works of Franz Lehár and Oscar Straus. The immortal operettas of W. S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan were to London of the 1880s what Offenbach's works had been to Paris 20 years earlier. The noteworthy composers in American operetta are Victor Herbert and Reginald de Koven. After World War I operettas gradually gave way to musical comedies (see musicals).
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