- Inventing the Business of Opera: The Impresario and His World in Seventeenth-Century Venice
Through their latest and long-awaited collaboration, Beth and Jonathan Glixon have provided a rare combination of extensive and crucial new archival data and significant rethinking of the systems of operatic production in Seicento Venice. While their book is not an obvious starting place for a newcomer to the field of seventeenth-century opera (it does not replace Rosand's classic Opera in [End Page 1204] Seventeenth-Century Venice, nor is it meant to), Inventing the Business of Opera will be a touchstone for all scholars of early modern Italian music. Indeed, given the centrality of opera in the cultural and economic landscape of early modern Venice — a centrality convincingly documented by the Glixons — the data and conclusions contained in this volume will be essential for all scholars who study the Serenissima in the seventeenth century.
Much of the Glixons's narrative revolves around one individual: Marco Faustini, impresario for three separate Venetian theaters for about two decades following his debut at Sant'Aponal in 1651. The bulk of the archival data which provides the backbone of this study is drawn from Faustini's own record books, which passed from his confraternity (the Scuola Grande di S. Marco) to the Venetian Archivio di Stato, and were discovered by Jonathan Glixon in the course of his research on music in the Venetian Scuole Grandi (his recent book on this topic, Honoring God and the City [Oxford, 2003] was reviewed in these pages). While the information on Faustini and his business dealings provides some of the most thorough pictures of the business of opera in mid-seventeenth-century Venice, the Glixons followed leads provided by the Faustini papers to many other Italian archives and libraries, and the list of archival resources provided in their acknowledgements should be required reading for musicology graduate students interested in early modern Italian sourcework.
Armed with this wealth of archival information, the Glixons spin a complex web of relationships between Venetians and non-Venetians, nobles and cittadini, singers and dancers, ticket-takers and theatrical machinists. The book is divided into four sections. The first, "The Business of Opera," introduces us to Faustini and amplifies on the economics of the operatic enterprise, with particular emphasis on boxes and their culture. The second section, "The Musical Production," examines the various categories of individuals involved in the creation of the operatic "work" — librettists, composers, musical performers, and dancers. In the third section, "The Physical Production," the Glixons turn their eye to an aspect of opera that is seldom celebrated by musicologists — scenery, machines, and costumes — tracing the centrality of these concerns to the opera-going audience and, hence, to those involved in operatic production. The last section, on "The Audience and Questions of Patronage," is the shortest (at thirty pages: compare this to more than a hundred pages for each of the first two sections, and almost seventy for the third) and thus perhaps the most frustrating to this reader, since the Glixons are able to offer comparatively less detailed information about this crucial and understudied aspect of the operatic phenomenon. Still, several charts and lists provide new information about the individuals associated with specific boxes in the mid-seventeenth-century Venetian theaters, and a reader's careful consideration of this material will yield a much more complex picture of operatic patronage than has been possible to date.
Given the quantity of information and the meticulous documentation provided by the authors, this reviewer was most grateful for the use of footnotes rather than endnotes, and Oxford University Press is to be commended for this decision. [End Page 1205] It is true that the presence of footnotes — sometimes lengthy originals from translated passages, other times extended discursive explanations that reveal the Glixons' awareness of much additional material worth conveying as well as their mastery of secondary...