Paper Session
Nov 20, 2021 11:00 AM - 11:50 AM(America/Chicago)
20211120T1100 20211120T1150 America/Chicago Italian Opera at Home and Abroad AMS 2021
_La famiglia Svizzera_ and Operatic Genre in Dresden and Milan
Individual Paper 11:00 AM - 11:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/20 17:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/20 17:50:00 UTC

A year after the 1809 premiere of Joseph Weigl's sentimental Viennese Singspiel _Die Schweizerfamilie_, the Italian adaptation _La famiglia Svizzera_ appeared at the summer palace of Saxon King Friedrich August I. It soon became a mainstay of Dresden's Italian opera company. When a production based on this adaptation appeared at Milan's La Scala in 1816, however, it was a catastrophic failure. These starkly contrasting outcomes emphasize how the adaptors and audiences placed different ideals on music, text, and drama, illuminating their different conceptions of operatic genre and musical nationhood.

In this paper, I trace how Dresden's adaptors "Italianized" this opera and explain its divergent reception. The linked processes of transmission, adaptation, performance, and reception form a growing topic in the scholarship of early nineteenth-century opera. Transnational studies have generally considered cultural imports ­­_into_ German, however, rather than the other way around. I show that _La famiglia Svizzera_ is more than a curiosity, but a valuable example for understanding opera of this period.

My analysis illustrates how the adaptors--most likely Leipzig author Adolph Wagner and Dresden court music director Franz Anton Schubert--made almost no changes to Weigl's original music but dramatically altered tone, imagery, and characterization through a thoughtful Italian translation and newly composed recitatives. Their work seems to have been invisible to the _Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung_'s reviewer, who praised the work's artistic unity and hoped for more such translations, "since German art agrees with German feelings." Local reviewers of the single Milan performance saw things differently. They praised Weigl's music--even though the audience had not--but colorfully decried the libretto's translation. The language of both cities' reviewers fit within wider contemporary debates about national operatic genres in the musical press, which were themselves enmeshed in the seismic shifts of Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic Europe. I argue that the case of _La famiglia Svizzera_ is a microcosm of these debates, an operatic hybrid that mirrored the preconceptions of its creators and viewers. Through my analysis, I demonstrate how an opera's generic and national identity were fluid and local, depending on factors in both the opera and its audience. 

Kirby Haugland
Indiana University, Jacobs School Of Music
A Tale of Two Spies: Luigi Arditi’s _La Spia_ and Risorgimento Ideals
Individual Paper 11:00 AM - 11:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/20 17:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/20 17:50:00 UTC

The 24 March 1856 premiere of _La Spia_, with music by Luigi Arditi (1822–1903), was an auspicious event in New York's cultural life. Hailed as only the fourth original opera written in the United States, it appealed to patriotism by quoting "Hail, Columbia" in the grand finale, prefiguring Puccini's quotation of "The Star-Spangled Banner" in _Madama Butterfly_. Based on James Fennimore Cooper's groundbreaking 1821 novel _The Spy: A Tale of the Neutral Ground_, the opera was nonetheless a significant reshaping of the original plot. Gone are the numerous subplots and minor characters that gave richness to Cooper's complex tale of divided loyalties during the American Revolution. Cooper's insights on internecine struggles and moral ambiguity are largely ignored in favor of rousing martial choruses for the Virginia dragoons, and the dramatic structure is reshaped to emphasize choral finales and visual spectacle. 

This paper will assess the transnational aspects of the opera and its critical reception, arguing that despite its American literary source, the music was indebted to Italian models, the staging was rooted in the principles of French grand opera, and the plot and characterization reflected the political ideals of the Italian Risorgimento. The architect of this transformation was the librettist Filippo Manetta, a follower of revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini who was living as an exile in the United States at the time of the production. Just as Verdi's _Nabucco_ (1842) had suggested parallels between the Israelite captivity in ancient Babylon and the nineteenth-century movement to end Austrian oppression of the Italian peninsula, Manetta's _La Spia_ conceptualized the American Revolution as a struggle by indigenous Americans to throw off a foreign occupier. A critic for the _New York Courier and Enquirer_ was blunt in his assessment of the opera: "Written by an Italian, to Italian words, in the Italian style, for Italian singers, there is not even the shadow of a ground for calling _La Spia_ an American work." This paper will contend that the basis of this reimagining of eighteenth-century America was nineteenth-century Italian politics.

E. Douglas Bomberger
Elizabethtown College
Carlo Varese’s Operatic Experience
Individual Paper 11:00 AM - 11:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/20 17:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/20 17:50:00 UTC

In 1832, the Italian historical novelist Carlo Varese appended an unusual essay to one of his novels entitled "On Rossini and Walter Scott." Over the course of sixty pages, Varese points to specific aspects of Rossini's style--his novel orchestration; his reliance on the crescendo--in order to demonstrate that listening to _The Barber of Seville_ is phenomenologically equivalent to reading one of the Waverley novels. Compared to his fellow audience members, Varese is simultaneously an everyman (he is bookish yet a musical amateur) and startlingly unique (he offers a wealth of specifics in an era when most Italian musical criticism trades only in generalizations). Although much recent scholarship has lionized informants such as Varese for their insights into the "operatic experience" of the past, I use the incomparable strangeness of Varese's writing to argue that such exercises in historical recovery are unrealistic and impractical.

Today it is axiomatic that, as Nicholas Till has it, scholars must consider "the theatrical experience of opera in performance." Recent studies of early nineteenth-century Italian opera by Mary Ann Smart and Emanuele Senici, as well as studies of other repertoires that draw on affect theory, are characteristic in their use of the archive to reconstruct "the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of audiences" (Senici). In this paper, I use a hypothetical reconstruction of Varese's listening practices to challenge this focus on experience from two angles. First, I elucidate the similarities between the recovery of historical listening and reader response theory, showing how both rely on the scholar creating a fictitious, "informed," or "implied" audience that is a presentist projection of the scholar himself. Second, I draw on established criticism of historically informed performance practice to ask why it is accepted that the way music sounded in the past is not recoverable but feelings about music are. Although I celebrate the gains of recent material and social histories, I insist that no accumulation of materials is enough to grant us access to the consciousness of audiences.

Edward Jacobson
Elizabethtown College
Indiana University, Jacobs School of Music
University of California, Berkeley
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