S1706 Entertainment Business. Venice and the Invention of Commercial Music Theater

Zöller Günter

Course Description

The course explores the development of baroque opera in 17th- and 18th-century Venice employing a combined aesthetic, political and economic focus. The modern art form of opera arose in aristocratic circles in late Renaissance Italy. Initially conceived as an imaginative recreation of classical Greek drama, opera soon evolved into an institution employed for courtly representation and the display of political power. In republican Venice, though, opera evolved from a privileged princely art form into a public spectacle that was privately financed and engaged in for pleasure and profit.

The course will place the development of Venetian opera within the overall socio-cultural context of the operatic art form. Throughout, the course will combine aesthetic and political perspectives on opera in general and on Venetian opera in particular in order to locate the latter's combined civic and commercial character.

The course will begin with the institution of public theater in classical Greece, in particular in Athens (Attic drama). The focus here will be on the religious as well as political character of Greek tragedy and on the key features of the surviving plays (Choral ode, dialogue, monologue). The course will pay particular attention to the concluding installment of the only extant tragic trilogy from classical antiquity, The Eumenides by Aeschylus (458 BCE). Special attention will be devoted to the latter’s civic significance, which resides in the institution of public justice in place of private retribution and family feud.

Next the course will turn to the theoretical account of Greek drama in Aristotle's Poetics. The focal point here will be the key concepts of action (drama), plot (mythos), tragic mistake (hamartia), fear (phobos) and pity (eleos), sudden reversal (catastrophe) and purgation (katharsis) in the psychopolitics of the classical theater.

From there the course will move to the rebirth of Greek drama under the guise of early modern opera, epitomized in the Venetian works of Claudio Monteverdi, namely The Return of Ulysses to His Homeland (1640) and The Coronation of Poppaea (1643). The general aesthetic, moral and political character of baroque opera as a display of the reign and the rage of the passions over the human mind will be addressed by recourse to Descartes' contemporary psychological treatise, The Passions of the Soul (1649).

Next the course will investigate the artistic development of commercial opera in baroque-era Venice. In particular, the course will study the range of subjects drawn from ancient political history and classical mythology, the role of virtuosic singers and the different venues of opera production in 17th- and 18th-century Venice. The course will turn first to the most prolific and successful 17th-century Venetian opera composer, Francesco Cavalli, and take a look at, as well as lend an ear to, his operas Xerxe (1654) on a libretto subsequently set by, among others, G. F. Haendel, and Eliogabale (1667/68), never performed in Cavalli's lifetime and only recently rediscovered and staged for the first time ever.

The course then will turn to the operatic works of the most famous 18th-century Venetian composer, Antonio Vivaldi, in particular his late opera Motezuma (1733), which had been believed lost but was recently rediscovered and has been performed a good number of times since.

The course will conclude with a look at the sociology, the economics and the aesthetics of operatic art in today's thoroughly touristified and gentrified Venice. In terms of co-curricular activities, the course will include visits to the Museo Correr in Piazza San Marco and to Venice's last remaining opera house, La Fenice.


Learning Outcomes:

Students will acquire historical and philosophical knowledge about the relation between art, politics and economics in modern society, improve their skills in the analysis of historical and philosophical texts and problems, and enhance their ability to discuss complex theoretical issues in written and spoken academic English.