Viva la Liberta! - Politics in Opera


Imprint Information

Viva la Liberta! - Politics in Opera by Anthony Arblaster is published by Verso in 1992 in London, Great Britain. It was the book's first edition and publication. The book contains 340 pages of text, no illustrations, and includes a tables of contents, nine main chapters, conclusion, notes and and an index. The chapters start with the period of modern politics, the French Revolution in 1789 and with "Mozart: Class Conflict and Enlightenment" from that period till modern opera / musicals in "Democratic Opera: Victims as Heroes". All nine chapters are written by the same author, Anthony Arblaster. Each chapter tries to concentrate on one to a few composers from the same period who share similar political views and actions. Each chapter can be viewed as an individual work / essay. The nine chapters follow the time frame sequentially and are respectively: Ch.1 Mozart: Class Conflict and Enlightenment, Ch.2 Opera and Revolution, Ch.3 Patria Oppressa: Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Risorgimento (Nationalism I), Ch.4 Verdi: the Liberal Patriot, Ch.5 Wagner: from Revolution to Racism, Ch.6 Russia, Czechoslovakia and a Footnote on England (Nationalism II), Ch.7 Women in Opera, Ch.8 Interlude - Opera without Politics: Puccini and Strauss and Ch.9 Democratic Opera: Victims as Heroes.

The introduction and conclusion helps in giving coherence to the vast time frame of two hundread years and the different emphasis on political of composers in their works. The detailed index is also helpful in the cross referencing a particular work or composer which might be mentioned in different chapters for comparisons. The notes offer a detailed bibliography with chance for further reference material on the issue of politics in opera.

General Summary

Although the book does not formally state the meaning of "politics", the definition used throughout the book is the "beliefs about how a country ought to be governed" instead of politics as in political power and actions or activities. The book also presents the argument of social context at the particular period and place as "politics" and that if opera lacks the political element (social context), it lacks a convincing element in which communication and mutual consensus among composer and audience would be neglected, that opera cannot be 'pure' music. Music and especially opera has to be out of 'something', a 'something' that lies outside and beyond the music itself and in many instances, political beliefs play are a major part in it. The book's intend is not to illustrate politics as the major cause or result of opera but that the influence exist and to refute the common downplay and negligence of politics in opera from critics.

In all chapters, the author follows a similar pattern in presenting his arguments. First, the history and beliefs of the composer in various stages of his life is discussed. Letters and books (in case of Wagner) of the composer are presented as evidence. The viewpoint of the composer in that should opera include politics is also discussed. Individual operas are then discussed, citing particular portions of the libretto as reference and evidence. The story lines for the operas are also discussed in detail. The audience's reaction and the popularity at the time of the initial performance is presented. Critics of different periods for the interpretation of the work is also quoted to give a more subjective point of view on the issue. Finally, for each chapter, a brief conclusion on the period or the composer is given and the central themes are reiterated.

Chapter Summeries

Although Mozart by no means was a political person, his works were cited as the dawn of modern opera with its certain political meaning in chapter one. In his operas, there were the ideas of class and sex conflicts and war. Class conflicts involved the abuse of aristocratic position and rise of the common people in both Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni. The sex war occures in Le nozze di Figaro and Cosi fan tutte where women should be treated with respect, rather than assuming in age old chauvinist way that is the women rather than men who are to be mistrusted in matters of love and sex. In Die Zauberflote, the moment of hope and optimism after the French Revolution can easily be seen where light and wisdom triumph over the Queen of the Night and superstition.

Arblaster in chapter three