Italian Operisti as Cultural Network: Insights and Contexts of the Pirker Correspondence

In the eighteenth century, Italian opera was present in all parts of Europe – constituting a cultural medium which connected Courts and centres of power and commerce from Naples to St Petersburg, including Bologna, Venice, Milano, Vienna, Hamburg, Copenhagen, London and Berlin. Previous research into opera as a European phenomenon has mostly focused on composers, scores and locations, less so on artistic personnel. This increasingly appears as an oversight, given that recent studies concerning the role of the singers in the production process have suggested that the single work of Italian opera was marked much more by the respective production process and every single performance than previously assumed: the work would be undergo changes from performance to performance. Singers, dancers, musicians, librettists and conductors (not necessarily the composers themselves) would generate anew operatic works through their own creative activity every night, adjusting them to the performance conditions in a process of permanent transformation. Furthermore, the artists assembled either in cooperatives (travelling ensembles) or employed individually in changing engagements substantially contributed to the fact that operas could be performed across Europe, on the basis of a well-functioning network and system of communication which formed the necessary infrastructure for the successful activity of the “operisti” – those involved in the genesis, production and circulation of opera.

The proposed research project aims at examining Italian opera under the aspect of the artists – their respective experiences in biography and profession, their social environment and their integration into social structures, as well as their career strategies between mobility and settling. Our research will find its starting point in a singular source complex with regard to Italian opera: in the mid-eighteenth century correspondence between the musicians and partners in marriage, Franz and Marianne Pirker, to be situated in the context of the Pietro Mingotti’s opera company. The project aims at a comprehensive scholarly review of this previously little studied letter exchange on the basis of a critically annotated edition and a contextualising publication.

See also the project's concluding conference: Opera as Institution: Networks and Professions (1700-1914) - Graz, November 23-24 2018