Bianca de' Rossi as Play, Ballet, Opera: Contours of "Modern" Historical Tragedy in the 1970s


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

The 1790s, a decade in which Italy attended to profound political and military changes, witnessed a transformation of the opera seria no less swift and nearly as remarkable. The libretto plots, which in the earlier half of the century had drawn on classical mythology and ancient Roman history, began in the 1760s to locate their action in medieval and early modem times that is, in a world of Christian kings and lesser nobility which often seems little different from that of the late eighteenth century.1 And as terror and violence became the unexpected fruit of enlightened optimism at the century's end, so the new librettos startled their audiences with culturally consonant action: powerful characters were much more likely to commit acts of treachery, villainy, or cruelty. In conventional opera seria plots, the individual in the highest position of authority was usually a king functioning as a father figure-misguided, upholding an untenable tradition, desiring a political marriage, but capable of recognizing his mistakes and rectifying them. It fell to characters of lesser rank, on the other hand, to scheme and resort to cruelty, for such baseness was unsuitable in an enlightened ruler.

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