Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: March 2011

8 - Italian opera in the eighteenth century



The history of Italian opera in the eighteenth century is as much the history of theatres, cities and performers as it is the history of composers, genres and works. Its study has benefited from a number of masterful recent inquiries that take a variety of approaches. The present summary views the history of Italian opera in the eighteenth century through the lens of the opera theatre, focusing on genres and their venues, seeking to elucidate categories of opera theatres – within and extending outside of Italy, in places where Italian opera was favoured – and exploring the implications of these varieties for the style of repertory represented by them. By no means a comprehensive overview of the history of all eighteenth-century theatres, nor a survey organized strictly according to cultural centres, composers, genres, or works (although these play integral roles), it highlights specific theatres and works, placing them in the context of the production process. Composers of eighteenth-century opera sought to ‘tailor’ their arias to an individual singer like a suit of clothes. Applied more broadly, this famous metaphor might be expanded to entire operatic works themselves, allowing us to explain them as whole, integrated entities – they are manifestations of the preferences, status, conditions, background and identities of the patrons and audiences for whom they were produced and the facilities for which they were designed.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Antolini, Bianca Maria and Witzenmann, Wolfgang (eds.). Napoli e il Teatro Musicale in Europa tra Sette e Ottocento: Studi in Onore di Friedrich Lippmann. Florence, 1993
Bauman, Thomas and McClymonds, Marita Petzoldt (eds.). Opera and the Enlightenment. Cambridge, 1995
Bauman, Thomas. ‘The Society of La Fenice and Its First Impresarios’. Journal of the American Musicological Society, 39 (1986) –54
Bianconi, Lorenzo and Pestelli, Georgio (eds.). Opera Production and Its Resources. (The History of Italian Opera. Part 2: Systems. Vol. 4.) Trans. Cochrane, Lydia G.. Chicago, IL, 1998
Bianconi, Lorenzo and Pestelli, Georgio(eds.). Opera On Stage. (The History of Italian Opera. Part 2: Systems. Vol. 5.) Trans. Singleton, Kate. Chicago, IL, 2002
Bianconi, Lorenzo and Bossa, Renato (eds.). Musica e Cultura a Napoli dal XV al XIX Secolo. Florence, 1983
Bouquet, Marie-Thérèse. Il teatro di corte. Dalle origini al 1788, Storia del Teatro Regio di Torino. Vol. 1. ed. Basso, Alberto, Turin, 1976
Brown, Bruce Alan. Gluck and the French Theatre in Vienna. Oxford, 1991
Brown, Bruce Alan. W. A. Mozart: Così fan tutte. Cambridge, 1995
Brown, Bruce Alan and John, A. Rice. ‘Salieri’s Così fan tutte’. Cambridge Opera Journal, 8 (1996) –43
Bucciarelli, Melania and Joncus, Berta (eds.). Music as Social and Cultural Practice: Essays in Honour of Reinhard Strohm. Woodbridge and Rochester, NY, 2007
Butler, Margaret Ruth. Operatic Reform at Turin’s Teatro Regio: Aspects of Production and Stylistic Change in the 1760s. Lucca, 2001
Butler, Margaret Ruth. ‘Administration and Innovation at Turin’s Teatro Regio: Producing Sofonisba (1764) and Oreste (1766)’. Cambridge Opera Journal, 14 (2002) –62
Butler, Margaret Ruth.‘Producing the Operatic Chorus at Parma’s Teatro Ducale, 1759–1769’. Eighteenth-Century Music, 3 (2006) –51
Carter, Tim. W. A. Mozart: ‘Le nozze di Figaro’. Cambridge, 1987
Corneilson, Paul. ‘Reconstructing the Mannheim Court Theater’, Early Music, 25 (1997) –81
Cotticelli, Francesco and Maione, Paologiovanni (eds.). Le arti della scena e l’esotismo in età moderna. Naples, 2006
Davoli, Susi (ed.). Civiltà teatrale e Settecento emiliano. Bologna, 1986
Degrada, Franco and Muraro, Maria Teresa (eds.). Antonio Vivaldi da Venezia all’Europa. Milan, 1978
DelDonna, Anthony R.Production Practices at the Teatro di San Carlo, Naples, in the Late 18th Century’. Early Music, 30 (2002) –45
Durante, Sergio. ‘The Chronology of Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito Reconsidered’. Music and Letters, 80 (1999) –94
Feldman, Martha. ‘Magic Mirrors and the Seria Stage: Thoughts Toward a Ritual View’. Journal of the American Musicological Society, 48 (1995) –84
Feldman, Martha. Opera and Sovereignty: Transforming Myths in Eighteenth-Century Italy. Chicago, 2007
Goehring, Edmund J.Three Modes of Perception in Mozart: The Philosophical, Pastoral, and Comic in ‘Così fan tutte’. Cambridge, 2004
Harris-Warrick, Rebecca and Brown, Bruce Alan (eds.). The Grotesque Dancer on the Eighteenth-Century Stage: Gennaro Magri and His World. Madison, WI, 2005
Heartz, Daniel. Mozart’s Operas. Ed. Bauman, Thomas, Berkeley, 1990
Heartz, Daniel. Haydn, Mozart and the Viennese School, 1740–1780. New York and London, 1995
Heartz, Daniel. Music in European Capitals: The Galant Style, 1720–1780. London and New York, 2003
Heartz, Daniel.From Garrick to Gluck: Essays on Opera in the Age of Enlightenment. Ed. Rice, John A., Hillsdale, NY, 2004
Holmes, William C.Opera Observed: Views of a Florentine Impresario in the Early Eighteenth Century. Chicago and London, 1993
Hunter, Mary and Webster, James (eds.). Opera Buffa in Mozart’s Vienna. Cambridge, 1997
Hunter, Mary. The Culture of Opera Buffa in Mozart’s Vienna: A Poetics of Entertainment. Princeton, NJ, 1999
Link, Dorothea. The National Court Theatre in Mozart’s Vienna: Sources and Documents, 1783–1792. Oxford, 1998
Maione, Paologiovanni and Seller, Francesca. Teatro di San Carlo di Napoli (1739–1777). Cronologia dei spettacoli (1737–1799). Vol. 1, Naples, 2005
Mancini, Franco. Il Teatro di San Carlo, 1737–1987. 3 vols., Naples, 1987
McClymonds, Marita Petzoldt. Niccolò Jommelli: The Last Years, 1769–1774. Ann Arbor, MI, 1980
McClymonds, Marita Petzoldt. ‘The Venetian Role in the Transformation of Italian Opera Seria during the 1790s’. In Muraro, Maria Teresa (ed.), I vicini di Mozart 1: Il teatro musicale tra Sette e Ottocento. Florence, 1989 –40
McClymonds, Marita Petzoldt.‘Opera Reform in Italy, 1750–80’. In Antolini, Bianca Maria, Gialdroni, Teresa M. and Pugliese, Annunziato (eds.), ‘Et facciam dolçi canti’: Studi in onore di Agostino Ziino in occasione del suo 65° compleanno. 2 vols., vol. 2, Lucca, 2003 –912
McClymonds, Marita Petzoldt. ‘The Role of Innovation and Reform in the Florentine Opera Seria Repertory, 1760 to 1800’. In Reardon, Colleen and Parisi, Susan (eds.), Music Observed: Studies in Memory of William C. Holmes. Warren, MI, 2004 –99
Milhous, Judith, Dideriksen, Gabriella and Hume, Robert D.. Italian Opera in Late Eighteenth-Century London, vol. 2, The Pantheon Opera and its Aftermath, 1789–1795. Oxford, 2000
Parisi, Susan (ed.). Music in the Theater, Church, and Villa: Essays in Honor of Robert Lamar Weaver and Norma Wright Weaver. Warren, MI, 2000
Piperno, Franco. ‘L’opera in Italia nel secolo XVIII’. In Basso, Alberto (ed.), Musica in scena. Storia dello spettacolo musicale. 2 vols., vol. 2, Turin, 1996 –199
Piperno, Franco.‘State and Market, Production and Style’. In Johnson, Victoria, Fulcher, Jane E. and Ertman, Thomas (eds.), Opera and Society in Italy and France from Monteverdi to Bourdieu. Cambridge, 2007 –59
Polzonetti, Pierpaolo. ‘Mesmerizing Adultery: Così fan tutte and the Kornman Scandal’. Cambridge Opera Journal, 14 (2002) –96
Price, Curtis, Milhous, Judith and Hume, Robert D.. Italian Opera in Late Eighteenth-Century London. Vol. 1. The King’s Theatre, Haymarket, 1778–1791. Oxford, 1995
Rice, John A.W. A. Mozart: ‘La clemenza di Tito’. Cambridge, 1991
Rice, John A.Antonio Salieri and Viennese Opera. Chicago, IL, 1998
Rice, John A.. Empress Marie Therese and Music at the Viennese Court, 1792–1807. Cambridge, 2003
Rice, John A.Mozart on the Stage. Cambridge, 2009
Robinson, Michael F.Naples and Neapolitan Opera. Oxford, 1972
Robinson, Michael F.A Late 18th-Century Account Book of the San Carlo Theatre, Naples’. Early Music, 18 (1990) –81
Rosselli, John. The Opera Industry in Italy from Cimarosa to Verdi. Cambridge, 1984
Rosselli, John.Singers of Italian Opera: The History of a Profession. Cambridge, 1992
Rushton, Julian. W. A. Mozart: ‘Don Giovanni’. Cambridge, 1981
Sadie, Stanley (ed.). Wolfgang Amadè Mozart: Essays on His Life and His Music. Oxford, 1996
Strohm, Reinhard. Essays on Handel and Italian Opera. Cambridge, 1985
Strohm, Reinhard. Dramma per Musica: Italian Opera Seria of the Eighteenth Century. New Haven, CT, 1997
Waldoff, Jessica. Recognition in Mozart’s Operas. Oxford, 2006
Weaver, Robert Lamar and Weaver, Norma Wright. A Chronology of Music in the Florentine Theater 1590–1750. Vol. 1, Detroit, MI, 1978;
Weaver, Robert Lamar and Weaver, Norma Wright. A Chronology of Music in the Florentine Theater 1751–1800, vol. 2, Warren, MI, 1993
Weimer, Eric. Opera Seria and the Evolution of the Classical Style, 1755–1772. Ann Arbor, MI, 1984
Woodfield, Ian. Opera and Drama in Eighteenth-Century London: The King’s Theatre, Garrick and the Business of Performance. Cambridge, 2001