Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

The Opera Industry in Italy from Cimarosa to Verdi: The Role of the Imnpresario

Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

The Opera Industry in Italy from Cimarosa to Verdi: The Role of the Imnpresario

Article excerpt

JOHN ROSSELLI. The Opera industry in Italy from Cimarosa to Verdi: The Role of the lmnpresario. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984. viii, 214 pp.

In The Opera Industry from Cimarosa to Verdi, John Rosselli presents an account of opera during Italy's "Golden Century" (William Weaver) from a perspective little considered by most operatically inclined academics or opera buffs. Instead of the usual discussion of composers, works, and singers, Rosselli views his subject from the bottom up, from the standpoint of those ultimately responsible for making individual performances, and even whole seasons, of opera actually happen - the impresarios. In doing so, Rosselli has produced that academic rarity, a genuinely unique book, one that is not only immensely entertaining and informative, but also one that provides some useful reflections upon the various factors, artistic and financial, that governed the development of Italian opera from the ancien regime to the founding of modern Italy in the 1870s.

As Rosselli himself points out in his "Note on further reading," "This book is the first attempt to deal systematically with Italian opera as a business, and with impresari and agents as a group" (p. 205). Being new, it follows that the book is based upon sources hitherto little examined by other writers. Not content with consulting volumes on social, economic, and musical history, Rosselli has investigated the diaries and papers of innumerable impresarios, agents, and sundry surrounding operatic hangers-on, and has also dug deep into the theatrical and business archives of virtually every town and city of operatic consequence in Italy. The fruit of this remarkable industry is a significant and important work of musical sociology.

Who were these impresarios? What sort of people were they and where did they come from? What did they actually do? What was their relationship to the composers? When and why did they eventually the out? In an account that is at once terse and packed with information, Rosselli answers all these questions and more. Roselli has a keen eye for the anecdotal, and in his rummaging through city archives, professional papers, and letters, he has come up with some striking, even startling facts. For example, if after months of careful preparation, fortuitous casting, and more than a little luck, an opera was deemed successful, the impresario might bask in widespread public acclaim and even be the focal point for a torchlight procession. He could, and often did, make large sums of money. If, on the other hand, his opera flopped, his very safety might be in jeopardy, as was the case after an unfortunate performance of L'Elisir d'amore in Rome in 1834, when the authence could be heard chanting "send the impresario to jail" (p. 156). After one particularly disastrous flop in Parma in 1818, the impresario Osea Francia was arrested on the spot and put in the fortress. Another had a bench thrown at him from the fifth tier; and one even took poison after suffering a season of overwhelming losses at Venice's Teatro La Fenice in 1794. Most impresarios, however, appear to have been energetic, if sometimes unscrupulous, entrepreneurs who had an irrational love of the theater and who also loved a challenge.

Although they wielded enormous power, often extending into every facet of opera production, most impresarios are today obscure figures and are rarely known by name. Well established by Mozart's time, enough so to inspire his comic opera, the impresarios seem to have had their heyday during the first half of the nineteenth century, when in conjunction with and supported by the nobility they exercised a virtual monopoly over Italian operatic life. However, aside from Bartolomeo Mireli (1794-1879), known because of his close association with Verdi, and Domenico Barbaj a (1778-1841), who ran theaters in Naples and Vienna for over thirty years, the figure of the impresario crops up only fleetingly in most accounts of Italian opera. …

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