Ancient Rome in Early Opera

Author: Robert C. Ketterer
A grand portrait of early opera's use of Roman history, from the perspectives of classical literature and musical history
Cloth – $44
978-0-252-03378-0
Publication Date: December 2008
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About the Book

The major historians of ancient Rome wrote their works in the firm belief that the exalted history of the Roman Empire provided plentiful lessons about individual behavior, inspiration for great souls, and warnings against evil ambitions, not to mention opportunities for rich comedy. The examples of Rome have often been resurrected for the opera stage to display the exceptional grandeur, glory, and tragedy of Roman figures. When modern opera developed in the baroque period, Rome provided settings and subject matter for librettists and composers. As opera spread to England and Germany, the treatment of Roman subjects changed to reflect national differences.

In this volume, Robert C. Ketterer tracks the changes as operas’ Roman subjects crossed generations and national boundaries. He also pays close attention to the composers’ individual approaches to developing their librettos. Following opera from its origins in seventeenth-century Venice to Napoleon’s invasion of Italy, Ketterer shows how opera was preoccupied with Roman historical figures as heroes, lovers, and fools. Monteverdi, Handel, Mozart, and Cimarosa were only the most renowned of the many composers drawn to Roman subjects. Handel in particular is a unifying figure in this history: he began his career in Germany, refined his craft in Italy, and rose to heights of renown in England, composing for aristocracy and royalty alike. Roman history provided these composers with all the necessary courage and intrigue, love and honor, and triumph and defeat so vital for the stirring music that makes great opera.

About the Author

Robert C. Ketterer is a professor of Classics at the University of Iowa and the coeditor of Crossing the Stages: The Production, Performance and Reception of Ancient Theater.