The Cambridge History of Nineteenth-Century Music

By Jim Samson | Go to book overview

4
The opera industry
ROGER PARKER

Introduction

Even with endorsement from a figure as eminent as the great Italian politician Cavour, who called opera 'a great industry with ramifications all over the world',1 the title of this chapter accepts a number of prejudices. Why should opera of this period be thought an 'industry' when, say, orchestral music or secular choral music is not? All these types of public entertainment were fostered by institutions in which were embedded power relations and social hierarchies; all had systems of production limited by economic circumstance; all depended on the agency of performers, and so forth. But opera, and perhaps particularly opera of this period, seems historiographically more deeply marked by its means of production than other musical genres; the mechanics of how operas come into being are thus more difficult to disentangle from the 'works themselves'. What is more, this circumstance is often used as a means of devaluing the repertory, questioning its seriousness of purpose as 'art'. To repeat the question, why is this?

The simplest explanation lies in a marked shift in opera's aesthetic status. The very idea of 'opera' underwent an important transformation during the eighteenth century, evolving from a sub-species of spoken theatre into what was essentially a musical genre. And even though elements of the earlier definition remained in force in some areas during the early decades of the nineteenth century (perhaps particularly in the otherwise very different cases of Italian opera seria and French opéra comique), the period covered by this chapter saw a gradual consolidation of this new status, with music regarded more and more as the dominant element, and with the position of the librettist as a literary/dramatic figure experiencing sharp decline. In 1750 Metastasio had been thought a prince among poets, composers vied with each other to do justice to

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1
For an amplification of the argument here and elsewhere, see the present author's entry on 'Opera, The 19th century', in Stanley Sadie and John Tyrell (eds.), The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd edn (London, 2001), vol. 18, pp. 434–44. Cavour's statement is quoted in John Rosselli, 'Opera Production, 1780–1880', in Lorenzo Bianconi and Giorgio Pestelli (eds.), Opera Production and its Resources (Chicago, 1998), p. 81.

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The Cambridge History of Nineteenth-Century Music
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • Notes on Contributors ix
  • Editor's Preface xiii
  • Part One - 1800–1850 1
  • 1 - The Musical Work and Nineteenth-Century History 3
  • Bibliography *
  • 2 - Music and the Rise of Aesthetics 29
  • Bibliography *
  • 3 - The Profession of Music 55
  • Bibliography 85
  • 4 - The Opera Industry 87
  • Bibliography *
  • 5 - The Construction of Beethoven 118
  • Bibliography *
  • 6 - Music and the Poetic 151
  • Bibliography *
  • 7 - The Invention of Tradition 178
  • Bibliography *
  • 8 - Choral Music 213
  • Bibliography *
  • 9 - The Consumption of Music 237
  • Bibliography 258
  • 10 - The Great Composer 259
  • Bibliography 283
  • Part Two - 1850–1900 285
  • 11 - Progress, Modernity and the Concept of an Avant-Garde 287
  • Bibliography *
  • 12 - Music as Ideal: the Aesthetics of Autonomy 318
  • Bibliography *
  • 13 - The Structures of Musical Life 343
  • Bibliography *
  • 14 - Opera and Music Drama 371
  • Bibliography *
  • 15 - Beethoven Reception: the Symphonic Tradition 424
  • Bibliography *
  • 16 - Words and Music in Germany and France 460
  • Bibliography *
  • 17 - Chamber Music and Piano 500
  • Bibliography *
  • 18 - Choral Culture and the Regeneration of the Organ 522
  • Bibliography *
  • 19 - Music and Social Class 544
  • Bibliography *
  • 20 - Nations and Nationalism 568
  • Bibliography *
  • 21 - Styles and Languages Around the Turn of the Century 601
  • Bibliography 620
  • Chronology 621
  • Institutions 659
  • Personalia 689
  • Index 747
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