Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC Berkeley

Repetitive Novelty: Italian Opera in Paris and London in the 1830s and 1840s


My dissertation connects music, politics, and society by focusing on the cultural life of the Théâtre Italien in Paris and the King’s Theatre in London. I claim that a culture of “repetitive novelty” emerged at the Italian opera houses as a means of managing the gap between the reality of a fractured, rapidly changing society and the ideals of a stable political and social situation. I argue that the need to stabilize rapid change was a particular civic imperative in Paris after the July Revolution and in London after the Reform Act of 1832. The worrying success of a repetitive work, the proliferation of ways to enjoy a celebrity, or the struggle of audience members to belong to an elite crowd all required people in Paris and London to reconcile their experiences of disorienting pace and change. My dissertation explores the ways in which politics pervaded social and fashionable life and the ways elite opera goers experienced, celebrated, and resisted change. The first chapter addresses the composition of the audience at the Théâtre Italien, drawing on archival documents written by opera-goers in combination with newspaper articles written about opera-goers. In the following chapter, I examine what these audiences listened to and saw in order to explore what the experience of repeated spectacles meant to them. My third chapter concerns the sheet music and objects that people bought to remember performances, which I use to open up the range of meaning that one opera singer could have in a burgeoning celebrity culture. Each of these chapters draws on a broad understanding of politics, which I treat as more than mere state governance and top-down official policy, but as something lived and experienced. I argue that the politics of intimate relations and the politics of music must be examined through texts and objects that provide glimpses into everyday life: letters bargaining for better seats, gifts between friends, gossip columns, and reviews of the twentieth performance of an opera. These ephemera, far from eschewing politics, supply the key to understanding a new and quietistic kind of modern political life.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View