9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


Rites of Autumn, Winter, and Spring: Decoding the Calendar of Venetian Opera

Eleanor Selfridge-Field

An exact understanding of the Venetian calendar has eluded chroniclers from Salvioli in the seventeenth century, Bonlini and Groppo in the eighteenth, and Wiel in the nineteenth, to Alm and Sartori in recent years. The problem has two components: (1) reconciliation of the non-coincident financial, ecclesiastical, and administrative years and (2) differentiation of the principal seasons for public entertainment (opera, comedy, and gambling).

Music scholars have turned repeatedly to musical artefacts (manuscript sources and printed libretti) to resolve conflicts, but these merely reflect the underlying confusion that inheres in primary sources. Intelligence reports, compiled weekly for various political and ecclesiastical bodies, provide a more secure basis for dating but any single series survives only sporadically.

Through a coordinated reading of twelve series of such documents against the six bibliographies and the two types of artefacts it has been possible to date, usually to the day, roughly 90% of the 800 operas produced in Venice between 1675 and 1750. This accumulated list resolves almost all problems of year-dating and fully defines the ever-changing limits of the seasons, not only for opera but also for comedy and certain kinds of private entertainments.

This accumulation of chronologically ordered information, besides including many first-person descriptions of performances, defines important correlates of patronage, literary subject, and musical genre. Changes over broad stretches of time are also apparent. Among these the persistence of elements of courtly organization in the later seventeenth century and the changing relationship of opera and comedy in the early eighteenth century are particularly noteworthy.

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Last updated on 22 March 2000 by Yo Tomita