ELEVENTH BIENNIAL INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON BAROQUE MUSIC
Manchester, 14th-18th July 2004
Italian opera 1640-1710 as an expression of regional and political identities
The 17th century did not only “invent” the new genre of opera, it also established it as the ideal model of musical drama. Venice was definitely the centre of this expansive development, which is characterized by two factors: a) a geographical expansion throughout the entirety of northern Italy and in the cultural centres of central and southern Italy, as well as in the Holy Roman Empire, and b) as a development of a repertoire of subjects, librettos and the operas themselves.
Part of the success of the new genre is the image of opera as a popular phenomenon, which is dependant on the approval of the masses. The popularity of Venetian opera was greatly helped by its construction as an ensemble of typified modules (roles, scenes, poetical and musical forms) that made it easy to adapt a dramma per musica to any requirement of performance.
How then can a genre which can be characterized as flexible, even faceless, help to create a specific identity? The Venetian republic itself can demonstrate how it could be done. It had a distinct self-image that can be found in numerous descriptions and histories of the republic, as well as in the founding myth and the official state genealogy (“Venezia altra Roma”).
Cristoforo Ivanovich’s Memorie teatrale di Venezia (1681/1688) bears witness to the importance of opera within this image of historical singularity. In the operas themselves librettists and composers compared the constitution of their republic to the one of the Roman Republic. The question of legitimacy of power and the ideal qualities of a ruler were equally important, as was the discussion of Venice’s role as a power in the eastern Mediterranean. Venetian opera was indeed a mirror of a political society.
This round-table discussion will address questions of
a) how it was attempted to create a sense of community via an allegorical or political message in the opera;
b) if there was a unified, historically developed point of view that transcended the traditional confines of society, such as class, origin or gender, or if these operas were directed at distinct social groups;
c) if there was a general identity of Seicento opera as such, or if there were such things as Venetian, Neapolitan or Palermitan opera with different sets of values;
d) what happened when an opera was exported were the signs of the identity of origin removed or modified?
e) how opera as expression of identities was perceived from outside its own cultural frame?
Last updated on 03 July 2004