Viva La Liberta Essay Research Paper Politics

Viva La Liberta Essay, Research Paper

Politics in Opera Imprint

Information Viva la Liberta! – Politics in Opera by Anthony

Arblaster is published by Verso in 1992 in London, Great

Britain. It was the book’s first edition and publication. The

book contains 340 pages of text, no illustrations, and

includes a tables of contents, nine main chapters, conclusion,

notes and and an index. The chapters start with the period of

modern politics, the French Revolution in 1789 and with

"Mozart: Class Conflict and Enlightenment" from that period

till modern opera / musicals in "Democratic Opera: Victims

as Heroes". All nine chapters are written by the same author,

Anthony Arblaster. Each chapter tries to concentrate on one

to a few composers from the same period who share similar

political views and actions. Each chapter can be viewed as

an individual work / essay. The nine chapters follow the time

frame sequentially and are respectively: Ch.1 Mozart: Class

Conflict and Enlightenment, Ch.2 Opera and Revolution,

Ch.3 Patria Oppressa: Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and

Risorgimento (Nationalism I), Ch.4 Verdi: the Liberal

Patriot, Ch.5 Wagner: from Revolution to Racism, Ch.6

Russia, Czechoslovakia and a Footnote on England

(Nationalism II), Ch.7 Women in Opera, Ch.8 Interlude -

Opera without Politics: Puccini and Strauss and Ch.9

Democratic Opera: Victims as Heroes. The introduction and

conclusion helps in giving coherence to the vast time frame

of two hundread years and the different emphasis on political

of composers in their works. The detailed index is also

helpful in the cross referencing a particular work or

composer which might be mentioned in different chapters for

comparisons. The notes offer a detailed bibliography with

chance for further reference material on the issue of politics

in opera. General Summary Although the book does not

formally state the meaning of "politics", the definition used

throughout the book is the "beliefs about how a country

ought to be governed" instead of politics as in political

power and actions or activities. The book also presents the

argument of social context at the particular period and place

as "politics" and that if opera lacks the political element

(social context), it lacks a convincing element in which

communication and mutual consensus among composer and

audience would be neglected, that opera cannot be ‘pure’

music. Music and especially opera has to be out of

’something’, a ’something’ that lies outside and beyond the

music itself and in many instances, political beliefs play are a

major part in it. The book’s intend is not to illustrate politics

as the major cause or result of opera but that the influence

exist and to refute the common downplay and negligence of

politics in opera from critics. In all chapters, the author

follows a similar pattern in presenting his arguments. First,

the history and beliefs of the composer in various stages of

his life is discussed. Letters and books (in case of Wagner)

of the composer are presented as evidence. The viewpoint

of the composer in that should opera include politics is also

discussed. Individual operas are then discussed, citing

particular portions of the libretto as reference and evidence.

The story lines for the operas are also discussed in detail.

The audience’s reaction and the popularity at the time of the

initial performance is presented. Critics of different periods

for the interpretation of the work is also quoted to give a

more subjective point of view on the issue. Finally, for each

chapter, a brief conclusion on the period or the composer is

given and the central themes are reiterated. Chapter

Summeries Although Mozart by no means was a political

person, his works were cited as the dawn of modern opera

with its certain political meaning in chapter one. In his

operas, there were the ideas of class and sex conflicts and

war. Class conflicts involved the abuse of aristocratic

position and rise of the common people in both Le nozze di

Figaro and Don Giovanni. The sex war occures in Le nozze

di Figaro and Cosi fan tutte where women should be treated

with respect, rather than assuming in age old chauvinist way

that is the women rather than men who are to be mistrusted

in matters of love and sex. In Die Zauberflote, the moment

of hope and optimism after the French Revolution can easily

be seen where light and wisdom triumph over the Queen of

the Night and superstition. Arblaster in chapter three and six

argues that music, and therefore opera played a central role

in creating a sense of national identity and rallying people to

the national cause in the various European countries. Often

opera provided a forum for the expression of subversive

political sentiments disguised to get around census in

patriotic arias or choruses. In Italy’s case, the most explicit

of all for the independence of Italy came from Rossini’s

Guillaume Tell. Arblaster also states that all three operas of

Rossini: Mose in Egitto, Maometto Secondo and Guillaume

Tell are about national oppression and use of chorus in

which arias are not for individuals but of whole nations. All

three depicted the idea of militant liberal nationalism. Other

composers of opera of Italy and other countries spread

similar ideas of nationalism in which helped to lead to the rise

of the independent nations. However, the most important

emphasis of the book is placed on two composers: Verdi

and Wagner. Arblaster uses one-third of the book to

portray Verdi as the liberal patriot with his heart for the

Republic and Wagner as the German with strong nationalist,

racist and anti-Semitic views. It is also in Chapter 5 devoted

to Wagner that the author changes the format to a more

argumentative fashion. Other critic’s arguments are put forth

followed by his own rebuttal and presentation of evidence.

Verdi was one of the composers with the strongest political

convictions and at one time even actually ran and succeeded

in entering the national parliament. However, the most

important aspect is that he allowed himself and his

personality to be in his music and his operas, and lacks the

feeling of distance between creator and creation that we find

in Mozart or Rossini. One of his great display of nationalism

was stated in Nabucco with the High Priest, Zaccaria which

famous chorus ‘Va pernsiero’ was spontaneously sung at

Verdi’s funeral, sixty years after its initial performance. In the

1840s, Verdi’s operas could be roughly divided into

primarily dramas for individuals which would include Ernani,

I due Foscari, Il corsaro, I masnadieri and Luisa Miller with

Alzira and Macbeth as borderline cases. The second

category, which are primarily political, public and patriotic

include Attila, Giovanna d’ Arco and La battaglia di

Legnano. Issues such as conflict between patriotic duty and

personal emotions in Giovanna d’Arco and Aida are

discussed. Italian patriots, against barbarian invaders as in

Attila are also portrayed. After the defeat of the Italian

upraise and fall of the Roman republic in 1849, Verdi

switches to more personal dilemmas and social matters.

Rigoletto and Boccanegra were both about class conflict

and La traviata about social issues. Near the end of his

career, Don Carlos was targeted at the Catholic Church

indicating that is more powerful and more ruthless than the

state. Aida, ended Verdi’s line of political or party political

operas with anti-clericalism sentiments. Although Wagner’s

works were adopted as cultural symbols by Hitler and the

Third Reich and Wagner shared many of the anti-Semitic

and racist views of the Nazis, Arblaster stressed that that

does not indicate that Wagner would approve the actions of

the Nazis. He simply states that the racist and nationalistic

views of Wagner in his operas, or music-dramas cannot be

ignored. Rienzi, was against aristocratic rule and carried a

strong suggestion of fascism which many say turned Hitler’s

ambitions away from art towards politics after seeing the first

performance. The Ring, which spanned twenty-six years

carried different political meaning during various stages of

the opera corresponding to Wagner’s beliefs in life. In Die

Walkure, there was incest which in a way signified ‘pure

blood’ and ‘pure race’. In Siegfried, there was thinly

disguised racism with Siegfried’s treatment of Mime.

Siegfried, arrogant, aggressive and above all mindless

Nordic hero was supposed to be the ‘most perfect human

being’. In Das Rheigold, Wagner’s obsession with the

‘fire-cure’ to cleanse the world was indicated by the doom of

the gods even with the return of the gold. With Chapter 7,

Arblaster discusses the social role of women in opera and

that they are almost always the victims but are given more

weight and sympathy in opera than in the real world. Puccini

and Strauss in Chapter 8 are shown as composers who try

to compose non-political operas in an increasing political

world and how this affects the coherence and validity of their

operas. Finally in Chapter 9, modern day opera to

Broadway musicals are included stating that opera is no

longer about the elite or privileged but about common

people as heroes. Critique Arblaster in both the introduction

and conclusion emphasized that music was the basic and the

most important element of opera. However, throughout the

book, his discussions were around the libretto giving little

reference to the music and how they express political,

nationalistic or patriotic feelings. He had no detailed analysis

of the orchestra or the score. At best, he indicated the

instruments in a particular section. This might be due to the

strong history but weak music background of the author.

Arblaster sometimes also use the original versions of operas

rather than the revised or the version that we can obtain.

This might provide limited benefit to our studies and practical

use. The author also stretches the definition of politics to the

social context in the opera, especially in the chapters of

Mozart and women in opera. The social context might just

be a background in which an action takes place instead of

the beliefs of the composer in which he would want to

spread to increase awareness. For example, in Le nozze di

Figaro, there is class and sex conflict. However, theses are

ideas which were rising at the time but not politics which are

beliefs which would help govern the country. Opera in many

cases spread ideals and visions but that does not equal to

spreading ideas of politics. Opera carries more meaning than

sheer entertainment but not necessarily politics. This also

give rises to the pinpointing of certain parts of the libretto to

establish the political element of the opera. The opera might

to a great extent non-political and trying to express other

ideas but by extracting and emphasizing these elements, the

reader might get a wrong intention of what the opera is

about. For example, although in the conclusion the author

stressed Wagner’s musical achievements are not impacted

by his racist views, the reader would concentrate too much

on these controversial and politically non-correct libretto of

the composer while neglecting the music and the other

meanings to the great work such as The Ring. To conclude,

Anthony Arblaster might have tried too hard in that instead

of looking for a line that would connect all the operas, he

searched too deep for individual evidence for each opera for

the composers he discussed. The content does not

correspond accurately with the title Viva la Liberta –

Politics in Opera.


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