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Understanding Italian Opera$
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Tim Carter

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780190247942

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190247942.001.0001

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What Is Opera?

What Is Opera?

(p.1) Chapter 1 What Is Opera?
Understanding Italian Opera

Tim Carter

Oxford University Press

The definition of opera created in 1685 by the English poet John Dryden focuses on poetry, music, and staging. Dryden also discusses the kinds of poetry best suited to the genre in terms of both subject matter and form. One problem he seeks to address is that of verisimilitude, given that opera can never be lifelike in any rational sense: Dryden tries to define who can plausibly sing on the stage. But he also distinguishes between song and sung speech, a distinction that maps onto the poetic structures of Italian opera librettos from 1600 on. Examples from Mozart’s Don Giovanni (1787) and Così fan tutte (1790), and Verdi’s La traviata (1853), reveal how the system works, as well as raising the questions of how and why a composer might choose not to follow the instructions explicit in their librettos.

Keywords:   Dryden, Mozart, poetry, Verdi, verisimilitude

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