Thesis (Ph.D)

Opera avanti a Dio! Religion and Opera in Liberal Italy from Unification to the First World War


Against the background of the evolving confrontation between the Catholic Church and the new state, religion in opera in Liberal Italy took on a new significance, both in new works and the revival of operas from earlier in the nineteenth century. Focusing on repertoire reflecting Catholic settings and theology, this thesis offers a fresh argument about the consistency of religious tropes and their significance in the political, cultural and social trends of Liberal Italy. It sets the treatment and reception of religious themes in opera in three contrasting urban contexts – the fascination with the supernatural in the positivist, intellectual centre of Turin, the culture war between competing visions of society and the purpose of art in Venice, and the confrontation between Papal Rome and the growing new capital city. Two thematic chapters consider how the adaptation of source texts in this period tended to augment religious themes, often emphasising conventional and orthodox religious views, and examine a series of musical and dramaturgical examples of the operatic markers of religion, which represented religious tropes including liturgical scenes, prayers and visions of the celestial and infernal, to suggest how little these changed in comparison to the broader musical style in this period. It challenges existing assumptions in several ways, including highlighting the continuing role of censorship until the mid-1890s. However, the Catholic social revival and the realignment of clerical and conservative political forces during the 1890s supported a broader, positive reading of religious tropes in opera. Analysis of archival sources, the daily and Catholic press, show that by 1900, even Puccini’s Tosca, supposedly the most anticlerical opera according to many musicologists, was read sympathetically by Catholic opinion. Before the First World War, the arrival on Italian stages of Wagner's Parsifal saw liberal and Catholic opinion compete to praise its specifically Catholic qualities and Italian heritage.

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Holden, Andrew James


Supervisors: Eichner, Barbara

Oxford Brookes departments

School of Arts
Faculty of Technology, Design and Environment


Year: 2019


Oxford Brookes University : 150th anniversary bursary
Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation : Travel grant

© Holden, Andrew James
Published by Oxford Brookes University
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