The Chorus’s "moral effect" in Italian Opera
Despite Italian operatic tradition had lengthily relegated the chorus to a mainly accessory and even decorative function, its presence in nineteenth-century melodrama progressively gained momentum and acquired a rather crucial import, especially during the Risorgimento. In his Zibaldone Giacomo Leopardi expressed his opinion about the chorus in melodrama, comparing its current ancillary position to the role and the "moral effect" it had in ancient theatre. The moral implications suggested by the poet were more precisely and firmly developed by Giuseppe Mazzini in his "Filosofia della musica" ["Philosophy of Music"], where the importance of the chorus is passionately stressed. Being aware of the centrality and communicative potential of melodrama in Italy, Mazzini charged the chorus with a mission of cultural and social renewal. This article explores these issues by examining not only famous examples taken from Gaetano Donizetti and Giuseppe Verdi but also less known works such as Giovanni Bottesini’s L’assedio di Firenze (1856) [The Siege of Florence]. Based upon a novel with the same title by Francesco Domenico Guerazzi, L’assedio di Firenze is a rare example of an opera in which political sentiments are openly proclaimed. Indeed, Bottesini’s use of the chorus appears to be particularly attuned to Mazzini’s idea and proves a case in point of the “moral effect” exercised by the chorus during the great season of Italian melodrama.
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