John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera

Ballad Opera is an English genre that grew to great prominence from 1728 through 1750.  It is recognizable for its satirical and comedic parody of the popular Italian opera that dominated European theatre companies at the time. While this particular style of play did utilize traditional conventions of opera, it was different in its use of loosely written prose interspersed with mainstream songs that were prominent among the London masses. The songs in general were typically folk songs from England, Scotland, and Ireland with new lyrics specific to the play replacing the original words.  In contrast to the dramatic and grandiose themes that characterized the Italian opera seria, the ballad opera gave the townspeople in the city streets popular music and common topics of conversation with which they could identify.  The main characters of ballad operas were typically commoners and rogues, contrasting with the aristocratic heroes of Italian opera.