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  • Inventing the Business of Opera: The Impresario and His World in Seventeenth Century Venice
  • Sandy Thorburn
Inventing the Business of Opera: The Impresario and His World in Seventeenth Century Venice. By Beth L. Glixon and Jonathan E. Glixon. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. [xxvi, 398 p. ISBN 0-195-15416-9. $50.00] Illustrations, bibliography, index.

As they make clear in the preface, Beth and Jonathan Glixon have been working on this book for many years, and their work is both long awaited and well worth the wait. Inventing the Business of Opera is not intended for the casual reader; it jumps headfirst into the business of opera in its earliest commercial period. As such, it is a book of extremes: it is extremely well-researched and extremely dense; it also makes no apologies for assuming of its readers a thorough grounding not only of the subject but of its principal players, their work, and the social situation in seventeenth-century Venice. For background on this specialized topic, a reader would be well-advised to begin with Simon Towneley Worsthorne's Venetian Opera in the Seventeenth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1954) or Ellen Rosand's Opera in Seventeenth-Century Venice: The Creation of a Genre (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991) before venturing into this work.

To be sure, this topic is increasingly of interest to scholars, and as such, the book is of great importance to current studies of opera and the arts industry as a whole. In this work, the Glixon team has made exhaustive studies of many original documents that have been hitherto unknown. Other than the already-known work of Giovanni Faustini, who seems to have chronicled every move he ever made (as described in the Venetian State Archives Scuola Grande de San Marco), they have found documents to flesh out the work of other impresarios including Boldù, Barbieri, Lappoli, Ceroni, Minato, Vettor Grimani Calergi, and others. The colorful description of their business interests (chap. 4: "Case Studies," pp. 66–105) is especially vivid. This chapter helps to illuminate the relationship of composers to librettists (such as there was any), of impresarios to singers (much of which is new information to me), and precise accounts of the costs of production.

One of the hazards of studying opera in the seventeenth century is that many of the operas have not been recorded. While a few operas by Cavalli (Giasone, La Calisto, Xerse, La Didone, Statira pincipessa di Persia), Sartorio (L'Orfeo), and Cesti (Orontea) are available (to say nothing of Monteverdi's operas), this list is short in comparison to the number of works produced in Venice. It is difficult, then, to discuss the music, the text setting, or the staging, since the scholar must rely on the libretto and the score, which, in nearly every case, are in manuscript (often in messy manuscript). This book tantalizes with chapters purporting to deal with the librettos and the score, but which in fact deal with ancillary issues like the price of the score, or the means of financing the libretto. I would argue that the music and the text-setting need a great deal of further study in order for music historians to be able to contextualize the relative historical and aesthetic importance of the people and work of seventeenth-century Venice. It cannot be questioned that the impresarios must have known the works they brought to the stage well, and yet not once in the book is any opera dealt with, musically, in detail. While this is a common occurrence in this field, it is a lacuna. If we do not know, by any standard, current or contemporaneous, the qualities of the works that were the purpose of this industry, then we cannot know whether the operas studied reached a wide audience, if they gained popular acceptance, or in what way they formed or were formed by the Venetian Zeitgeist. At the same time, I hesitate to criticize the authors for this because it may be outside of their purview. However, until someone studies a large number [End Page 600] of these works, no one will be able to decide...


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