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Not without Madness

Perspectives on Opera

Opera often seems to arouse either irrational enthusiasm or visceral dislike. Such madness, as Goethe wrote, is indispensable in all theater, and yet in practice, sentiment and passion must be balanced by sense and reason. Exploring this tension between madness and reason, Not without Madness presents new analytical approaches to thinking about eighteenth- and nineteenth-century opera through the lenses of its historical and cultural contexts.
In these twelve essays, Fabrizio Della Seta explores the concept of opera as a dramatic event and an essential moment in the history of theater. Examining the meaning of opera and the devices that produce and transmit this meaning, he looks at the complex verbal, musical, and scenic mechanisms in parts of La sonnambula, Ernani, Aida, Le nozze di Figaro, Macbeth, and Il trovatore. He argues that approaches to the study of opera must address performance, interpretation, composition, reception, and cultural ramifications. Purely musical analysis does not make sense unless we take into account music’s dramatic function. Containing many essays available for the first time in English, Not without Madness bridges recent divisions in opera studies and will attract musicologists, musicians, and opera lovers alike.

320 pages | 37 musical examples, 8 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2012

History: European History

Music: General Music


Not without Madness abounds with highly original concepts and insights. Fabrizio Della Seta tackles the subject of meaning in music and opera in an engaging way, responding to a wealth of stimuli not only from the fields of musicology, but also from literature and philosophy. This book stands out as a remarkably dense, exciting, and rewarding read.”

Francesco Izzo, University of Southampton

“An admirable contribution to opera criticism. Fabrizio Della Seta explores, with great insight, some of the most beloved and influential operas by Mozart, Meyerbeer, Verdi, and others. His remarks on the ways in which these works have been discussed by generations of critics and scholars are immensely thoughtful and stimulating.”

Ralph P. Locke, Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester

“Dense and erudite, these essays will be valuable to those interested in 19th-century opera criticism.”


“There is much here to satisfy any reader with an interest in getting a close look at some key operatic moments.”

Opera News

“Della Seta’s chapters delight in the joys and sorrows of opera as ongoing cultural practice and as evolving field of study.”


Table of Contents

Note on Terminology

Part One: Theory and Analysis
1. Emotion and Action: On the Theory of Italian Opera
2. Ernani: The “Carlo Quinto” Act
3. “O cieli azzurri”: Exoticism and Dramatic Discourse in Aida
4. What “Happens” in the Act 2 Finale of Le nozze di Figaro?
5. The Death of King Duncan: From Shakespeare to Verdi, via the French Revolution
6. “D’amor sull’ali rosee”: Analyzing Melody and the Creative Process

Part Two: History and Criticism
7. Some Difficulties in the Historiography of Italian Opera
8. Verdi: The Italian Tradition and the European Experience
9. Meyerbeer in Nineteenth-Century Italian Criticism and the Idea of “Musical Drama”
10. Alberto Mazzucato and the Beginnings of Italian Verdi Criticism
11. Parola scenica in Verdi and His Critics
12. Gabriele Baldini on Verdi: A Theory of Opera


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