Dramma per Musica

Italian Opera Seria of the Eighteenth Century

Reinhard Strohm

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Dramma per musica—the most usual term for Italian serious opera from the seventeenth to the early nineteenth century—was a modern, enlightened form of theater that presented a unified, artistically designed, dramatic enactment of human stories, expressed by the voice and underscored by the orchestra. This book by one of the world’s most eminent musicologists illustrates the diversity of this baroque art form and explains how it has given us opera as we know it.

Reinhard Strohm introduces the concept and history of dramma per musica and then examines the contemporary reception and environment of this operatic tradition, analyzing its social and repertorial patterns and comparing it to theories on the roles of French spoken drama and Italian libretto reform. In describing the principles observed by poets, composers, and performers, Strohm discusses such central concepts of theory and practice as verisimilitude, decorum, gesture, and rhetoric. He also decodes various works, including Handel’s Ariodante, operas by Hasse, and stage works featuring the Earl of Essex. Throughout the book, Strohm surveys the traditions of the spoken theater and pays special attention to the subject matter of the librettos, as well as to drama theory, stage action, patronage, political history, and ideology. His account covers opera houses in Rome, Naples, Venice, Hamburg, Dresden, Vienna, Madrid, London, and Warsaw, as he follows one character of the dramatic tradition across the European stages for more than two centuries.

Authoritative and enlightening, this book reveals how dramma per musica forms a vital part of our theatrical and musical heritage.

Reinhard Strohm is Heather Professor of Music at the University of Oxford.

"Contemporary performers would do well to study Strohm's exegesis of 18th-century Italian musical rhetoric, gesture, stage decorum and audience expectations of stock characters."—Early Music Today

"The introduction to Strohm's book is probably one of the most cogent summaries to date of opera seria, its principles, history, and cultural status. Its reconsideration of the genre, here referred to by the eighteenth-century name dramma per musica, will satisfy historians and musicologists, while students will welcome its concise and matter-of-fact presentation of material."—Charles Dill, Eighteenth Century Current Bibliography

"The book deserves to be read by many besides musicologists."—John Rosselli, Times Higher Education Supplement

ISBN: 9780300064544
Publication Date: December 22, 1997
336 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
8 b/w illus.