Some of the first Singspiele were miracle plays in Germany, where dialogue was interspersed with singing. By the early 17th century, miracle plays had grown profane, the word Singspiel is found in print, and secular Singspiele were also being performed, both in translated borrowings or imitations from English and Italian songs and plays, and in original German creations.
French operas with spoken dialogue (opéra comique) were also frequently transcribed into the German, as well. Singspiele were considered popular entertainment, and were usually performed by traveling troupes (such as the Koch, Döbbelin and Koberwein companies), rather than by established companies within metropolitan centers.
Singspiel plots are generally comic or romantic in nature, and frequently include elements of magic, fantastical creatures, and comically exaggerated characterizations of good and evil.
The subject matter of the Singspiel evolved over time: While tragedy was a less frequent motif than comedy, romance, or fantasy, most of the Singspiele that are still part of the modern operatic canon are those written on more serious themes, such as Beethoven's Fidelio, or Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz.
^ According to the 1908 edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music, the main distinction between opera and Singspiel is: "[Singspiel] by no means excludes occasional recitative in place of the spoken dialogue, but the moment the music helps to develop the dramatic denouement we have to do with Opera and not with Singspiel."