Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

The Birth of Opera

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

The Birth of Opera

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "Why Venice? Venetian Society and the Success of Early Opera" by Edward Muir, in Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Winter 2006.

THE MYSTERY OF WHY OPERA AS WE know it emerged in 17th-century Venice might make a best-selling Dan Brown novel. The answer, says Edward Muir, a Northwestern University humanities professor, owes everything to the city's unique position as a locus of resistance to papal power, a hotbed of libertinism (given full flower in its carnival tradition), and a home to a supportive Italian nobility that sustained, among other things, a notorious secret society.

Opera was not invented in Venice. That distinction belongs to the 16th-century Medici courts of Florence, but operas produced there were one-time entertainments for special royal occasions. Venice opened its first permanent opera theater in 1637, and by 1678, says Muir, "all the elements of a flourishing enterprise were in place: competition among opera houses, the cult of the diva, ... season-ticket holders, sold-out performances, ... and tourists who came to Venice just to hear operas."

That opera might catch on would scarcely have been thought possible as the 17th century dawned, with Venice chafing under the dictates of the resident Jesuit order, empowered by Rome to enforce stern moral codes regarding public entertainment. The most common shows were satirical productions by commedia dell'arte

troupes, allowed only during the less-constrained carnival season leading up to Lent. But renegade Venetian writers were beginning to openly challenge church authority, which provoked a papal interdict in 1606 withholding the most fundamental sacraments from Venetians for almost a year. The city fathers responded by expelling the Jesuits from the city, making Venice, for the next two generations, "the one place in Italy open to criticisms of Counter Reformation papal politics. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.