‘Et in Arcadia Ergastus’ – The pastoral, tragicomedy, and the origins of Italian opera in early eighteenth–century London

Mann, Bill (2021) ‘Et in Arcadia Ergastus’ – The pastoral, tragicomedy, and the origins of Italian opera in early eighteenth–century London. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This dissertation has a double purpose: first, to explore the significance of the pastoral genre and its application to early eighteenth-century London, but with particular focus on the pastoral opera Gli Amori di Ergasto by Jacob Greber. Secondly, to relate the pastoral and its transformation to tragicomedy during the emergence of Italian opera in London in the years 1705–1711. The fate of Greber’s pastoral is shrouded in mystery, due partly to the nature of the sources, but also due to an understandable lack of attention to a pastoral dismissed as a failure. Nevertheless, this so-called failure, on closer inspection, can reveal significant outcomes, especially in terms of progression from pastoral to tragicomedy. It is hoped that this approach will provide another angle to the arrival of Italian opera in London, 1705–1711.

Italian opera arrived in early eighteenth-century London at a point of cultural and political turmoil. Partisan politics affected many aspects of society: the degree of involvement in European war on the one hand, and social, religious, and cultural issues at home, on the other. Cultural rivalries were conducted in newspapers, journals, coffee houses, clubs, plays, poetry, and, as to be expected, in parliament, and consequently on electioneering hustings. The polemics between Tories and Whigs in neoclassical and rationalist attitudes to the Ancients, dominated cultural discourse and affected views about the importation of Italian opera. This included the future direction of the theatre – Italian opera versus indigenous English drama.

To navigate a route through the turmoil, a forensic approach has been adopted to issues of conflict: how personal and theatrical rivalries and ambitions could dictate outcomes, how conflicting Whig ideologies may have aided Italian opera, and how Handel’s Rinaldo came about more by chance than manoeuvre. Here it is argued that allegorical interpretations or political parallels in Handel’s Rinaldo, or the in preceding Italian operas, have little relevance. The ease with which Curtis Price and other writers dismissed pre-Handel operas as mere pasticcios, needed closer examination. Without these experiments with their vocal, orchestral and theatrical developments, it is unlikely that Rinaldo could have been performed, or that Italian opera would have become established as early as 1711.

Beginning tentatively in the newly built Queen’s Theatre with pastorals which were comparatively simple and inexpensive to produce, audience appetite for drama with more intricate plots, encouraged change. Competition with Drury Lane Theatre, pushed developments into a more heroic mould, so rivalry helped the development of Italian opera. Joseph Kerman’s Opera as Drama, first published in 1956, does not concern itself with the period of this dissertation, but it provokes the question, that if opera is drama (drama per musica), then what sort of drama – the genres of the pastoral, heroic, or tragicomedy? Did Whig-Tory hostilities make a difference? To what extent has author intention and scholarly application affected the outcome? This study attempts to explore the issues.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > Music
Supervisor's Name: Butt, Professor John and McGuinness, Dr. David
Date of Award: 2021
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2021-82555
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 08 Nov 2021 13:37
Last Modified: 08 Nov 2021 13:41
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82555
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/82555

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