One of Verdi’s last two operas is a tragedy, the other a comedy. Mozart’s Don Giovanni is a tragicomedy. Shakespeare wrote comedies, tragicomedies, and tragedies, including the incredibly dark King Lear. All these works were written to captivate an audience in the theater.
All of these works were shaped, as Kenneth Burke has written, with the psychology of the audience in mind. In his essays Burke details various ways that Shakespeare shaped his plays to create an appetite in the mind of his auditors—an appetite to experience how this play will progress—and then proceeded to ingeniously satisfy that appetite.
I enjoy creating expressive effects that depend on listener expectations. One way of fostering anticipations is to establish patterned, hierarchical frameworks. For example, I might use tonal materials and rhythmic patterns associated with tango music to trigger listener expectations based on those frameworks. For many listeners such materials might also evoke the atmosphere of tango dancing.
I can then play with the anticipations that such materials and structures create, striving to satisfy them in unexpected ways. For me, this approach opens up a full spectrum of expression—from playful and comic to dark and tragic.
Shakespeare, Mozart, and Verdi realized that by establishing expectations, an unanticipated turn of events or change of expressive tone can then further increase our interest, causing us to wonder how this unexpected swerve will effect the progress of the work as a whole.