Modernising Opera Recuperation and Renewal in Venice, 1951-1961

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis explores operatic production in Venice’s nascent postwar culture (1951- 1961). Although long sidelined as a site of political authority, Venice took on new life in the twentieth century, both as a hub of avant-garde activity and as a site of cultural recuperation. I begin with the premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress (1951), an opera that provoked anxieties over memory and cultural heritage in a society trying to efface the past and embrace future-orientated mass media. Echoes of the past in the postwar period reverberate in the second chapter, which is on the revival of Verdi’s Attila (1951). The performance became a focal part of contemporary concerns with posterity: an exhumed classic, a vehicle for rewriting Risorgimento history and a media event. The third chapter focuses on the premiere of three one-act music theatre pieces,
commissioned by the 1959 music festival to alleviate widespread calls of opera crisis. Critics perceived the resultant works to be grounded in ideas of openness, diversity and eclecticism—a proto-neoavanguardia distinct from resurgent high modernism. The final chapter takes as its topic the premiere of Luigi Nono’s Intolleranza 1960 (1961). Heralded by some as opera’s salvation, Intolleranza was premised on a noisy realism that served not just as a locus of political memory, but also as a regeneration of older artistic forms in response to the increasing hegemony of new mass entertainments. In sketching these four case studies, I construct a specific picture of opera at midcentury, one forged in the aftermath of war and in response to cultural and technological changes unforeseen in the Fascist period. I want to suggest, furthermore, a fleeting revitalisation of operatic culture, one filtered through a lugubrious rhetoric born of crisis, museography and dangerously beguiling mass media.

Date of Award2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorRoger Parker (Supervisor) & John Deathridge (Supervisor)

Cite this