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Subject: Opera Names
From: Barry Brenesal <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:[log in to unmask]
Date:Tue, 29 Jun 1999 18:38:27 EDT

text/plain (43 lines)

In a message dated 6/29/99 1:06:24 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
[log in to unmask] writes:

<< When I heard that Donizetti wrote an opera "Emilia di
 Liverpool" I couldn't stop laughing!  (Yes, its an Opera Rara release).  It
has my
 vote for silliest opera title.  The finding of a girl named Emilia in
Liverpool in
 1830 would be about as likely as finding a Linda within a thousand miles of
Chamonix.  Any other nominations in the silly name contest? >>

Now, be fair.  Donizetti wasn't writing history, he was writing a romantic
opera, the equivalent of 1930's Hollywood cinema, in historical costume.  He
employed all the same conventions that creative talents of varying scope
employ in similar circumstances, regardless of time and locale.  His
characters, regardless of nationality, sing in the language of their
audience.  Their names are given in that language, as well.  And the plot has
little to do with anything more than a few external trappings of reality, and
far more to do (again) with audience expectations and the requirements of the

I suspect the reason that Italy garners criticism for this rather than other
lands is that romanticism was perceived in a pan-European sense by Italians,
who (at the time) lacked a homeland under their own control, instead of the
more narrowly nationalistic conception of romanticism employed in France or
Germany.  Germans like Marshner and Weber wrote operas based on local folk
legends; while French nationalism hardly showed in opera at the time, unless
it was possibly in Les Troyens.  (The French national myth places their
origins among the surivors of Troy who left with Aeneas.)

The Italians, on the other hand, looked for grand, passionate themes from the
past (and not the near past or Italian past, since that would invoke the
censor's wrath).  Renaissance monarchs, ancient druids, Scottish lairds,
Greek poets and Roman generals all formed the subjects of their operas-- and
all spoke Italian and possessed contemporary Italian names.

At least Donizetti, Bellini, Rossini and their peers didn't try to present
their operas as "history set to music," which is the ploy employed in modern
"historical drama" films.  Whether the creators state it or the publicity
machine, how many people have gone away from seeing Amadeus or Shakespeare in
Love believing that either contained history!

Barry Brenesal

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