"In this dazzling investigation of the vast sociopolitical context of 18th-century opera seria, Feldman provides a detailed quasi-anthropological investigation of the ways in which opera seria reflects and expresses an evolving, ever-shifting concept of sovereignty."
Opera and Sovereignty: Transforming Myths in Eighteenth-Century Italyby Martha Feldman
Performed throughout Europe during the 1700s, Italian heroic opera, or opera seria, was the century’s most significant musical art form, profoundly engaging such figures as Handel, Haydn, and Mozart. Opera and Sovereignty is the first book to address this genre as cultural history, arguing that eighteenth-century opera seria must be understood in light/i>
Performed throughout Europe during the 1700s, Italian heroic opera, or opera seria, was the century’s most significant musical art form, profoundly engaging such figures as Handel, Haydn, and Mozart. Opera and Sovereignty is the first book to address this genre as cultural history, arguing that eighteenth-century opera seria must be understood in light of the period’s social and political upheavals.
Taking an anthropological approach to European music that’s as bold as it is unusual, Martha Feldman traces Italian opera’s shift from a mythical assertion of sovereignty, with its festive forms and rituals, to a dramatic vehicle that increasingly questioned absolute ideals. She situates these transformations against the backdrop of eighteenth-century Italian culture to show how opera seria both reflected and affected the struggles of rulers to maintain sovereignty in the face of a growing public sphere. In so doing, Feldman explains why the form had such great international success and how audience experiences of the period differed from ours today. Ambitiously interdisciplinary, Opera and Sovereignty will appeal not only to scholars of music and anthropology, but also to those interested in theater, dance, and the history of the Enlightenment.
James H. Johnson
“Martha Feldman wields her vast array of sources with great intensity and imagination, virtually propelling the reader into a memorable one-on-one experience with the previously unfathomable eighteenth-century world of opera seria in performance. Her anthropological approach is startlingly original and yields powerful insights into how this genre of art music functioned within the sociopolitical dynamics of its time.”
“Opera and Sovereignty is a decidedly original book on dramma per musica and an incisive contribution to the study of musical practices in their cultural contexts. Martha Feldman deftly undoes the opposition between history and myth that is the common understanding of the difference between Italian and French opera of the time. In the end, we are given a compelling story of ambivalent reforms and persistent, but always fluid, operatic forms.”
“I know of nothing else like this book. From Feldman I have come to expect a lapidary, loving marriage of source work with deft theoretical framing, and that marriage shines from every page. So seamlessly does she achieve this, indeed, that I am carried along for long stretches by the apparently effortless commonsensicality of it all—until a casual revelation, a sudden unnerving juxtaposition, brings me up short and breathless: something really new is brewing here! Feldman is not the first musicologist to bring together formal analysis, performance theory, and the sensorial elements of musicking; but, for my money, she is the most successful at it so far. As well as providing the most readable and profound treatment of opera seria yet in print, this book should provide musicologists with a peerless model for what analysis can be. I know I will be reacting to it, drawing upon it, half-consciously borrowing from it, and conversing with it for many years to come.”--Elisabeth Le Guin, University of California, Los Angeles
"Opera and Sovereignty is perhaps the most comprehensive study of opera seria to date, and certainly it is unrivalled in the English language. . . . A book of astounding breadth of subject matter, rich source materials, and provocative methodologies. . . . In its richness of ideas, comprehensive coverage of a diversity of opera houses and local practices, multi-layerings of readings, and exhaustive bibliography, this is a truly extraordinary achievement that will offer much to scholars of eighteenth-century opera. This long-awaited revisionist reading of the genre will dominate our understanding of opera seria in eighteenth-century Italy for the forseeable future."
"Superbly researched and brilliantly argued, [the book] is fresh, original, and distinguished by unfailing common sense. This is not to say that its formulations or conclusions are simple. The subject is as subtle as it is capacious: how the operatic genre of opera seria at once contributed to and undercut the mythmaking that sustained political elites. . . . Historians and musicologists alike have much to learn from the vision and ambition of this enterprise."
"Through the imposing complexity of the book, Martha Feldman highlights the diversity of a genre that reflects or reveals cultural transitions. . . . Social life, audience studies and institutional history are most consistently addressed in this ever-surprising book."
- University of Chicago Press
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Meet the Author
Martha Feldman is professor of music at the University of Chicago.
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