Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
(Dis)embodying Myths in Ancien Régime Opera

(Dis)embodying Myths in Ancien Régime Opera: Multidisciplinary Perspectives

EDITED BY Bruno Forment
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Leuven University Press
Pages: 184
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    (Dis)embodying Myths in Ancien Régime Opera
    Book Description:

    Throughout the Ancien Régime, mythology played a vital role in opera, defining such epoch-making works as Claudio Monteverdi's La favola d'Orfeo (1607) and Christoph Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride (1779). The operatic presence of the Greco-Roman gods and heroes was anything but unambiguous or unproblematic, however. (Dis)embodying Myths in Ancien Régime Opera highlights myth's chameleonic life in the Italian dramma per musica and French tragédie en musique of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Written by eminent scholars in the fields of music, literature, theatre, and cultural studies, the six essays in this book address important questions. Through what ideological lenses did the Ancien Régime perceive an ancient legacy that was fundamentally pagan and fictitious, as opposed to Christian and rationalistic? What dramaturgies did librettists and composers devise to adapt mythical topics to altering philosophical and esthetic doctrines? Were the ancients' precepts obeyed or precisely overridden by the age of ‘classicism'? And how could myths be made to fit changing modes of spectatorship? Enlightening and wide-ranging on an essentially multidisciplinary development in European culture, (Dis)embodying Myths in Ancien Régime Opera will appeal to all music, literature, and art lovers seeking to deepen their knowledge of an increasingly popular repertoire.

    eISBN: 978-94-6166-057-2
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

    (pp. 6-8)
  2. LO SCHERNO DEGLI DEI Myth and derision in the dramma per musica of the seventeenth century
    (pp. 17-32)
    Jean-François Lattarico

    At its creation, near the close of the sixteenth century, opera maintained a narrow and privileged relationship with the realm of mythology. The theory of operatic practice, which was sparked by the experiments of Bardi’s Camerata and aimed at reviving the ideal of Greek tragedy (whether or not sung in its entirety), associated the lyric theater exclusively with characters of ‘musical’ essence. Accordingly, poet-musicians like Orpheus, Arion, and David emerged as the perfect symbols of the artistic union¹ envisaged by thefavola in musica,² and the earliest treatises dealing with opera put the accent precisely on the need to convene...

  3. HELPINGS FROM THE GREAT BANQUETS OF EPIC Handel’s Teseo and Arianna in Creta
    (pp. 33-62)
    Robert C. Ketterer

    The myths that Baroque opera embodied on stage were not abstract, slightly mystical stories transmitted orally from a dim past, nor were they static, codified equivalents of scripture. Early modern Europe had inherited the artistic and self-conscious mythography of Greco-Roman literature mutated by translations, retellings, and reinterpretations throughout the European Middle Ages and Renaissance. And although classical mythology provided the first creators of opera with a rich body of stories and images from which to make their selections and adaptations, these pioneers were less interested in myth-tellingper sethan they were in reproducing the emotive power of word and...

  4. ENVOICING THE DIVINE Oracles in lyric and spoken drama in seventeenth-century France
    (pp. 63-96)
    Geoffrey Burgess

    Despite growing rationalist scepticism regarding the supernatural, divine revelations were not completely renounced in seventeenth-century French drama. The mingling of supernatural and mortal characters was justified to some extent by the favored setting in the mythical world of pagan Greece and Rome, but the dependence on gods was still treated judiciously:deus ex machinaplot rescues were subjected to derisive criticism, and theatrical propriety proscribed supernatural apparitions in spoken tragedy.² In the place of their on-stage presence, gods were manifest in the form of oracular decrees whose impact was no less profound on the lives of the characters whose drama...

  5. ADDRESSING THE DIVINE The ‘numinous’ accompagnato in opera seria
    (pp. 97-116)
    Bruno Forment

    More than any other art, music has the deep-seated ability to evoke the aura of mystery required for theatrical representations of the mythical. When, for instance, Ferruccio Busoni wondered at what particular moments music was truly “indispensable” on the stage, his conclusion read: “During dances, marches, songs, and – at the appearance of the supernatural in the action.”¹ Of course, music had already supported unearthly causes long before Busoni even considered writing hisEntwurf einer neuen Ästhetik der Tonkunst(1916). No later than 1589, Giovanni de’ Bardi deployed trombones to convey the gloom of Pluto’s subterranean habitat, the ‘region of...

    (pp. 117-138)
    Reinhard Strohm

    The desire to assimilate or equate opera and myth seems unstoppable today. We feel that opera and myth have much in common, not only when operas take their plots from classical mythology – such as Orpheus, Ulysses, Iphigenia, or Hypermnestra – but also when the ‘metaphysical’ potential of the genre itself is being invoked. This happens regularly in discussions of ‘the meaning’ or ‘the essence’ of opera. The observation that opera mayutilize as well as resemble mythseems also to reflect the non-verbal dimensions of its communication.¹ On the other hand, the mythical associations of opera are somewhat suspect...

    (pp. 139-154)
    Bram van Oostveldt

    In an intriguing scene inDangerous liaisons(1988), Stephen Frears’ superb film version of Christopher Hampton’s homonymous play, Gluck’sIphigénie en Taurideis performed at the Paris Opéra. From her box, the wicked Marquise de Merteuil (played by Glenn Close) surveys the public with her binoculars. Her gaze falls upon Chevalier Danceny (Keanu Reeves), who is moved to tears by Iphigenia’s famous aria “Ô malheureuse Iphigénie” (Act II, scene 6). Merteuil mocks Danceny’s emotional response to her friends by calling him one of those rare eccentrics who attend the opera to listen to the music. The scene subtly interprets the...

    (pp. 171-172)