Theses Doctoral

Opera at the Crossroads of Tradition and Reform in Gluck's Vienna

Youell, Amber Lynne

Operatic history is riddled with reform. Although at the discursive level all operatic reforms share similar motivations, their execution in practice yields extremely different results, each indicative of the time and place in which they occur. Despite their claims to pan-historical aesthetic truth and timeless ideals, operatic reforms are highly specific indicators of their generation's individual needs, desires, and fears. My dissertation explores what the mid-eighteenth-century reform, pioneered most famously by Gluck and Calzabigi, can tell us about opera and its composers, audiences and performers in Habsburg Vienna. I interpret both reformed and unreformed Italian opera seria in 1760s Vienna through four different but intersecting conceptual lenses: luxury and economics, political representation, theories of body and communication, and a performer's voice. Opera played an important role in a widespread debate over luxury that pervaded Western Europe, an issue that comprised not only changing economics but paradigmatic shifts in social behavior. In the field of medicine, new scientific observation began to transform the ways that people viewed emotion and communication, and the ways these were expressed in opera. The nature of sovereignty itself was slowly shifting from absolutist models, requiring both new modes of government and new operatic representation. Yet individual singer's voices, such as that of Gaetano Guadagni, still played a vital role in shaping composition and aesthetics. Vienna in the 1760s experienced a flowering of diverse approaches to the problem of opera by a network of performers and composers who blurred the lines between tradition and progress and make us rethink the meanings of reform.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Sisman, Elaine R.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 17, 2012