A major new exhibition opened at the end of September at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London: Opera: Passion, Power and Politics. The first of the three qualifying terms needs little explanation as a potential subject; as the title of Peter Conrad’s book A Song of Love and Death (1987) has it, opera is popularly seen as the supreme dramatic embodiment of passion in its various forms. The art form evolved in the city courts of Mantua and Florence in late Renaissance Italy, with the first public opera houses appearing in republican Venice in the 1630s. Opera has never completely lost its connection to centres of power and influence, however egalitarian its later intentions. This is made manifest in many European cities, where pride of place is given to an opera house as a display of royal or civic authority and prestige. And not only in Europe, but the saga surrounding the opera houses that were situated in three different locations on the island of Manhattan tell us much about the society of the city, so eloquently articulated in the fiction of Henry James and Edith Wharton. The case for Sydney needs no explanation. The Janus face of power is, of course, politics, and opera has always been imbrued with the political.
Michael Halliwell reviews 'The Politics of Opera: A History from Monteverdi to Mozart' by Mitchell Cohen
The Politics of Opera: A History from Monteverdi to Mozart
by Mitchell Cohen
Princeton University Press (Footprint), $84.99 hb, 512 pp, 9780691175027
Michael Halliwell studied music and literature at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and at the London Opera Centre....
If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.
Leave a comment
Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.
NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.