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date: 20 June 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter situates opera in the context of the battle between the ancients and the moderns that was waged particularly in the realm of literature during the critical years of the genre’s development in Italy. Taking into account the writings of such champions of modernity as Tassoni, Lancellotti, and Boccalini, as well as examples from mid-seventeenth-century Venice, the chapter proposes that opera’s expressive power is a result not so much of its relative success or failure in adhering to the humanist ideals of its Florentine creators, so embedded in operatic historiography, but rather in the perennial tension between ancient precepts and modern fantasies, manifest in the genre’s often playful engagement with anachronism. The chapter concludes with a glimpse at the complex and often contradictory treatment of the ancients in the twentieth century, exemplified by Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Henze’s The Bassarids.

Keywords: ancients, moderns, anachronism, operatic historiography, Venice

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