Bygone Modernity: Re-imagining Italian opera in Milan, New York and Buenos Aires, 1887-1914

Change log
Rindom, Ditlev 

This dissertation provides a detailed study of Italian operatic transfer between Milan, New York and Buenos Aires in the decades around 1900. It investigates how ideas and practices of Italian opera were defined in these two key American cities, offering an explicitly transnational perspective on Italian operatic culture. In so doing, it also considers the reciprocal impacts of transatlantic movement on operatic life in Milan during a period of burgeoning New World cultural and economic dominance. This study comprises five broadly chronological case studies. Chapter One addresses the first transatlantic productions of Verdi’s Otello (1887), in the context both of an emerging Italian culture industry and of rapid American urbanisation. Chapter Two considers the double-bill of Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana (1890) and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (1892), examining their pairing and performance history in Buenos Aires and New York in the light of mass Italian immigration as well as in terms of contemporary constructions of the “popular”. Chapter Three turns to Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (1904), examining the opera in relation to Puccini’s 1907 New York tour and the American operatic gramophone industry. Chapter Four examines the 1906 Milan Exposition, investigating its musical activities – particularly a revival at La Scala of Verdi’s La traviata (1853) – against contemporary fascination with Argentina. Chapter Five considers constructions of an Italian-American operatic canon in the early 1910s, focusing on the Argentine world premiere of Mascagni’s Isabeau (1911) and the New York reception of Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre re (1913). Overall, this dissertation seeks to demonstrate the complex position of Italian opera in these two American cities at a time of rapid demographic and urban change, while highlighting the importance of American perceptions in shaping Milanese (and more broadly Italian) operatic identities. If opera served as agent both of modernisation and of cultural continuity in the New World, commentators in New York and Buenos Aires frequently cast Italy itself as bygone: a conception that fuelled Milan’s own drive towards modernity, while challenging familiar ideas of opera as a quintessentially Italian artform.

Walton, Benjamin
opera, Italy, transnationalism, Milan, New York, Buenos Aires
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Nigel and Judy Weiss Research Studentship