What were the cultural and historical influences on itailan opera around 1700-1800?


What were the cultural and historical influences on itailan opera around 1700-1800?


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Töölö Library Music Department/Helsinki 30.3.04

All opera stems from Italy - and according to this fact there is a vast variety of books and writings. Your question is very interesting and challenging and I try to give you some ideas where to find the information for your study and also I can outline some characteristics of Italian opera which I found when I looked up to answer your question.

I have mainly used these two:
1) The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Volume 2.
(searchword is "Italy" and you can find very accurate and meticulous articles on different centuries in Italian opera)
-usually this encyclopedia is in bigger libraries which have separate music departments.

2) Digital database in the web:
-this database of music is for library customers, you can use it in Helsinki city Library.


From the article "History and geography" (extracts):

"Like Germany, but unlike France and Great Britain, Italy achieved political unity late. The kingdom was formed only in 1861, through the so called Risorgimento; by 1870 it included most of the territory now belonging to the Italian Republic established in 1946...The sense of national cultural identity was strong...before the end of the 17th century over 40 cities had more or less permanent opera houses...

In the 18th century, Austrian hegemony replaced Spanish, to the benefit of the development cities such as Naples, Florence and Milan;

...but at the end of the century, before the upheavals caused by Napoleon's Italian campaigns (1796), the states forming the political and civic map remained substantially the same...

Yet the number of towns and cities with opera houses doubled...almost 100 theatres active in 1786-6...1764 to 1823 number of Italian towns is well above 200...

With the political and territorial recognization after The Congress of Vienna (1815), just at the time of Rossini's breathtaking national success, Italy was redivided into ten or so states with about 15 'capitals'. But under the reactionary governments of the 1815 Restoration there was a boom in theatre building, about 100 houses were built between 1821 and 1847...There wa s a tendency towards expansion...in 1830 there were around 175 opera seasons across Italy...such as Bellini's Norma reached small towns such as Chivasso, Moncalvo, Oleggio, Pontevico etc."

"After unification, with the current economic and political crises of a modern state in a poor and backward country and with the tendency of the Left to resent an expensive and elitist entertainment, the market for opera contracted...
Nonetheless, in the 1890s the official count for 755 municipalities was 1055 theatres (for both spoken drama and opera; the repertories cannot be separated in the 19th century)...
In spite of political unity the market continued to be decentralized...the new capital, Rome, did not play a leading role...La Scla , La Fenice led in the number, quality and novelty of their productions."

- 18th century opera in Italy is called "Opera seria". Again from GROVE MUSIC ARTICLE you get a good article on this form of opera: (this is again extracts from that article)"The characteristics of OPERA SERIA took shape during the first two decades of the 18th century as part mof a literary reform led by the Arcadian Acadmy of Rome...responding to French criticism of Italian opera and drama...they took steps to bring the libretto into accord with the principles of classical Greek drama...Aristotle's Poetics...poets...to strive for simplicity naturalness...Operas in three acts closing with a chorus...
The opera house in 18th century Italy was an important social meeting place...The fashionable part of the audience, who customarily owned boxes attended night after night."

-The New Grove Dictionary of Opera:
"The early 19th century. The years of revolution and Napoleonic domination did not on the whole upset the working of Italian operatic life...Italians' fondness
for the luxury entertainment remained...Also from France, in the first years after the revolutionary era, came the impetus for the first literary polemic on Romanticism...touched a vital chord concerning the choice of operatic themes in Italy...Above all composers and librettists drew from the French drama- sensational and alarming events...conventional forms, equally valid for OPERA SERIA and OPERA BUFFA ,governed the audience's expectations..."

From a book ALAN JEFFERSON: The Glory of Opera (David & Charles, London): "With OPERA BUFFA firmly established alongside with OPERA SERIA there seemed a need for a new master to propel the art even further forward...This was Rossini...Bellini and Donizetti, lyrical contemporaries of Rossini, formed in a way, the link between Rossini and Verdi... From Verdi the Italian opera moved swiftly to VERISMO school of which Puccini was by far the nmost successful...Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana of 1888 founded the movement."

The New Grove Dictionary of Opera: "After unification. With the formation of the kingdom of Italy 1861 and the achievment of national unity, the social and cultural position of opera changed profoundly...a desire for cultural modernity...the search for novelty became a rallying point for composers, librettists..."

Here are some starting points for your study.
Good luck for your work and have a nice springtime!

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