What is Singspiel?

11 January 2016

Singspiel is a musical genre that appeared in 18th century Germany. Literally translated as sing-play, this form of music drama is akin to French opéra comique and also derived from English ballad opera, the Lied tradition and German folklore. Like opéra comique, Singspiel is a concentrate of what life is made of: lightness, fantasy, emotion as well as gravity and tragedy. But it's to be distinguished from opera buffa or operetta owing to its political connotation.
A number of composers tackled Singspiel, leading to major works of the repertoire such as Beethoven's Fidelio, Weber's Der Freischütz and Mozart's The Magic Flute. It even inspired Wagner to write his operas. Over the centuries, it reinvented itself, sometimes symphonic, sometimes based on identity. The use of German is thus of the utmost importance. As a nationalistic assertion, Singspiel aimed to become true German national opera. Neglected in favor of any new romantic opera, it then experienced an existential crisis.
In 2015 the genre is undergoing an inner transformation in the hands of composer Philippe Manoury. With the creation of Kein Licht, Singspiel will keep all its original features (it will be performed in German), yet it will be confronted for the first time with contemporary opera and new technologies. Speech will become music until it blends into notes. But the challenge goes even further as the genre will have to model on a single libretto: being hybrid, the story of Kein Licht is neither an opera nor a scenario. It simply takes us to a peculiar world full of sensations.

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