Ossian in Italy
How did the poetry of Ossian (really, James MacPherson) influence Italian opera in the nineteenth century? Why was Ossian — later acknowledged to be a fraud — so important to the Romantic generation in Italy? Could it be because these supposedly ancient poems spoke to the longing for a unified culture and community, one based…
“Ethiopian” Songs: Love and Theft
[Trigger/content warnings: lots of racist and ableist imagery and language.] In 1768, English playwright Isaac Bickerstaffe and Charles Dibdin — librettist and composer, respectively — presented their comic opera The Padlock at London’s Drury Lane Theatre. Dibdin portrayed the role of Mungo, a black slave from the West Indies, and his aria “Dear Heart! What a…
Can Opera Be Woke?
Verdi’s 1887 opera Otello is based on Shakespeare’s great tragedy Othello, or the Moor of Venice. Othello, a heroic general who is manipulated by his aide-de-camp, Iago, into his tragic events leading to his own destruction, is a role considered by many to be the pinnacle of a classically-trained actor’s career. As such, well into the twentieth century,…