A burletta (Italian, meaning little joke), also sometimes burla or burlettina, is a musical term generally denoting a brief comic Italian (or, later, English) opera. The term was used in the 18th century to denote the comic intermezzos between the acts of an opera seria, but was sometimes given to more extended works; Pergolesi's La serva padrona was designated a 'burletta' at its London premiere in 1750.
In England the term began to be used, in contrast to burlesque, for works that satirized opera but without using musical parody. Burlettas in English began to appear in the 1760s, the earliest identified being Midas by Kane O'Hara, first performed privately in 1760 near Belfast, and produced at Covent Garden in 1764. The form became debased when the term 'burletta' began to be used for English comic or ballad operas, as a way of evading the monopoly on opera in London belonging to Covent Garden and Drury Lane. After repeal of the 1737 Licensing Act in 1843, use of the term declined.
List of burlettas
- Midas by Kane O'Hara (privately near Belfast, 1760, Dublin, 1762)
- Orpheus by François-Hippolyte Barthélémon (London, 1767)
- The judgement of Paris by Barthélémon (London, 1768)
- The Recruiting Serjeant by Charles Dibdin (London, 1770)
- The Portrait by Samuel Arnold (1770)
- The Portrait by Barthélémon (Dublin, c. 1771)
- The Golden Pippin by John Abraham Fisher (1773)
- Poor Vulcan by Dibdin (1778)
- John Hamilton Warrack; Ewan West (1992-10-15). The Oxford Dictionary of Opera. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 978-0-19-869164-8.
- Nicholas Temperley. "Burletta", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (accessed 08 September 2007), grovemusic.com (subscription access).