A type of opera, generally in one act, popular in Italy in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A typical evening comprised two such pieces and two ballets (one of them sometimes replaced by an instrumental work). The centre of production and dissemination was Venice, in particular the Teatro S Moisè, with 106 of the 191 productions documented through printed librettos. The beginnings of the farsa repertory may be placed in the early 1790s, and production peaked in 1800. The principal librettists were Giulio Artusi, G.M. Foppa (76 texts) and Gaetano Rossi (the last, above all, in the context of the farsa sentimentale, which itself became progressively more common against a basic diet of comic subjects); significant contributions to the musical repertory were made by, among others, Giuseppe Farinelli, Gardi, Generali, Simon Mayr, Giuseppe Mosca, Portogallo, Pucitta, Rossini and Trento.
The internal structure of the farsa frequently takes as its model the two-act dramma giocoso per musica, with a reduction in the number and length of the recitatives and the number of closed-form pieces: typical, halfway through the farsa, is the appearance of a concertato piece whose function is largely similar to the ensemble finale in Act 1 of a dramma giocoso. Other farse are set ‘in the manner of the French … with unsung recitative in prose’ (F. Bartoli, Notizie istoriche de’ comici italiani, Padua, 1782), thus embracing the characteristic structure of the French comédie mêlée d’ariettes; a few, at their dramatic climax, adopt an openly ‘melodramatic’ style in which spoken recitative is accompanied by tremolos and other side effects in the orchestra. The apparent inconsistency in dramatic and musical structure is partly due, perhaps, to the openly derivative nature of the vast majority of farsa texts: original librettos are few in comparison with the many derived from earlier drammi giocosi per musica, novels, French musical and non-musical theatre and, in particular, Italian theatrical comedies.
Characteristics of the farsa include the almost total lack of choruses, markedly fewer scene changes than in the contemporary dramma giocoso (with a clear preference for single scenes) and the relative absence of stage effects. These features suggest the importance of production economy (economical factors are also apparent in the unprecedented scale on which successful works from previous seasons were restaged). A further characteristic is ‘speed, naturalness, propriety, moderate action’, resulting in a greater rapport between actors and audience than in other forms of contemporary musical theatre and more attention to detail, realistic gesture and action.
D.Bryant: ‘Un sistema di consumo dell’opera italiana nel primo Ottocento: il caso della farsa’, IMSCR XIV: Bologna 1987, i, 497–503
M.T.Muraro and D.Bryant, eds.: I vicini di Mozart, ii: La farsa musicale veneziana: Venice 1987
M.G.Miggiani: ‘Il teatro di San Moisè (1793–1818)’, Bollettino del Centro rossiniano di studi, xxx (1990)
D.Bryant: ‘Presenze del teatro in prosa nell’opera comica di Mayr’, Simon Mayr Symposium I: Ingolstadt 1992, 167–73
F.Licciardi: ‘Di alcune compagnie di attori-cantanti e cantanti-attori nella critica fra Sette e Ottocento’, Carlo Goldoni: Venice 1994, 307–21
D.Bryant: ‘La fortune des comédies de Goldoni dans le théâtre musical’, Musiques goldoniennes: hommage à Jacques Joly (Paris, 1995), 45–50
F.Licciardi: ‘Correspondances stylistiques et formelles entre dramaturgie et musique dans les Pamela di Generali et Farinelli’, ibid., 89–98
Farse [farcitura, farsa, farsia, farsitura]
(Lat., from farcire: ‘to stuff’).
An insertion into set texts, especially liturgical texts, of phrases or words not originally part of those texts. It would appear that the term is virtually synonymous with trope (seeTrope (i)); this is shown by a text quoted by Du Cange (‘Qualiter debeant cantare Kyrie eleyson cum Farsa’), but as a rule the term ‘trope’ was used for interpolations into the Mass and Office chants, while ‘farsa’ was used for interpolations into the lessons, even though farses were usually copied within the trope and versus collections such as F-Pn 1139 and E-Mn 288. The terminological distinction is found also in sources that merely refer to the practice, such as ordinals and ceremonials. Farsing seems to have been largely a French tradition that spread to Spain and Norman Sicily and its sources range from the 12th to the 15th century, with the majority falling in the 13th and 14th centuries.
Unlike tropes, which were almost universally written in Latin, a certain number of lesson farses, particularly for the Epistles, were in French, but farses should be distinguished from macaronic verse or from the simple alternation of stanzas in different languages. Their function, like that of the tropes, was to elucidate and comment upon the liturgical text. A farsed antiphon of the Virgin with interpolations in French is shown in ex.1.
The most widespread examples of farse come from the 12th and 13th centuries and were especially applied to the Epistle of the major feasts of the Christmas cycle: Christmas, St Stephen’s Day (26 December), St John the Evangelist (27 December), the Holy Innocents (28 December), St Thomas of Canterbury (29 December), the Circumcision (1 January) and the Epiphany (6 January); Easter, Pentecost, feasts of the Blessed Virgin, and St Nicholas also received farsed epistles. Epistles farsed in Latin appear to have preceded any of the French farsings. (See Dreve, Blume and Bannister for farsed epistles in Latin for a wide variety of feasts.) The farses could be in verse with assonance or in prose; a fair number of them survive with melodies, some of which can be quite elaborate (Stäblein; Arlt).
MGG1 (‘Epistel’; B. Stäblein)
C. du Fresne: Glossarium ad scriptores mediae et infimae latinitatis (Paris, 1678), rev. 1882–7 by L. Favre)
E.Martène, ed.: De antiquis ecclesiae ritibus libri (Antwerp, 2/1736–8/R), i, 281E–282; iii, 99–100, 108E
A.E.Poquet, ed.: Rituale seu mandatum insignis ecclesiae suessionensis (Soissons, 1856)
C.Cuissard: ‘Une épitre farcie pour l’Epiphanie’, Bulletin de la Société dunoise, v (1885), 224
L.Gautier: Histoire de la poésie liturgique au Moyen-Age, i: Les tropes (Paris, 1886/R), 151–2
U.Chevalier, ed.: Prosolarium ecclesiae aniciensis: office en vers de la Circoncision en usage dans l’église du Puy (Paris, 1894)
G.M. Dreves, C. Blume and H.M. Bannister, eds.: ‘Analecta hymnica medii aevi’, xlix (Leipzig, 1906/R)
H.Villetard: Office de Pierre de Corbeil (Office de la Circoncision) improprement appelé ‘Office des fous’: texte et chant publiés d’après le manuscrit de Sens (XIIIe siècle) (Paris, 1907)
W.Arlt: Ein Festoffizium des Mittelalters aus Beauvais in seiner liturgischen und musikalischen Bedeutung (Cologne, 1970), i, 93; ii, 105, 241, 302