Pagodas in Play
Jacket illustration: Watercolor of a costume design by Leonardo Marini for L'orfano della Cina, a dance performed between acts of the opera Giulio Sabino, Teatro Regio, Turin, 1790, from the Storia Patria manuscript held by the Biblioteca Reale in Turin.
China on the Eighteenth-Century Italian Opera Stage
Pagodas in Play examines the representation of China in nine Italian operas of the eighteenth century. It focuses specifically on libretti, analyzing them as texts produced in a variety of interpenetrating cultural contexts: the general European fascination with the Middle Kingdom; developments in Italian literary, theatrical, and operatic realms; Enlightenment ideologies; and the heterogeneity of the Italian states. With exemplary scholarship Adrienne Ward explores how Italians appropriated prevailing notions about the Celestial Empire and used them productively in a form of entertainment widely comprehensible in eighteenth-century Europe. The Chinese characters, places, objects, and ideas staged in Italian heroic operas (opera serie) and comic operas (opera buffe) provide a rich picture of how such authors as Pietro Metastasio, Apostolo Zeno, Carlo Goldoni, Giambattista Lorenzi, and Domenico Lalli conceived of the Celestial Empire. Furthermore, the texts and performance practices tell a detailed story about China's versatile role in how Italians addressed local and transnational developments. Ward demonstrates how the fertile exploitation of perceptions of China in Settecento Italian opera challenges the idea that only in the twentieth century has Orientalism shifted from a geographical paradigm to one in which essentialist characteristics are deterritorialized and manipulated in the interests of competing new world elites. Indeed, discrete conceptualizations of Chineseness were mobilized for local purposes, far removed from questions of actual East vs. West, and from nationalist and/or colonialist projects. Pagodas in Play will appeal to students and scholars of the Enlightenment, Orientalism, Italian Studies, and Opera Studies, as well as to historians of European sinology, who will be afforded a fascinating view onto a "stage" until now unrevealed.
About the author:
Adrienne Ward is Associate Professor of Italian at the University of Virginia. She is especially interested in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Italian literary culture, with an emphasis on theater, gender, and exoticism. Her work has appeared in Problemi di critica goldoniana, Esperienze letterarie, Theatre Journal, and Quaderni d'Italianistica. Her current project focuses on Italian influences on the Jeffersonian culture of eighteenth-century Virginia.