An Essay on the Opera saggio Sopra L'opera in Musica by Francesco Alagarotti

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This work is an important, but neglected, treatise of 18th century musical aesthetics. It belongs to that mid-century movement in the arts that saw a reaction against the artificiality and formality, as it came to seem, of the Baroque style and towards the naturalness of expression characteristic of the painting, literature, drama, even fashions in gardening in the latter part of the century. Algarotti was a man of wide interests and deep culture who himself assisted in opera productions in Berlin and Parma. In this essay, he sets out a program for the form of opera that bears remarkable resemblances with the first recognisably modern works in the form that are still performed today, the operas of Gluck. The essay attracted considerable attention in its day, being translated into several European languages. The new edition makes available once more the contemporary English translation, which is both accurate and has an attractive period quality.


“ ... Although the various editions of Algarotti’s essay in the original Italian have recently been published in facsimile, the English translation of the 1763 edition has never been reprinted, and copies are rare outside the big research libraries. It deserves to be better known ... I personally welcome this carefully edited edition. Algarotti peopled his text with many references to 18th century personalities, some celebrated, some obscure: it is good to have these explained in the editorial footnotes, together with the additional resource of Algarotti’s footnotes from the edition of 1764 ... Commentaries such as Algarotti’s can only deepen our knowledge of its [heroic opera] reception in its own time ...” – (from the Preface) Patricia Howard, Formerly Lecturer and Tutor in Music at the Open University, Milton Keynes, U.K.

“Algarotti’s Essay on Opera is one of the classic texts of the 18th century musical aesthetics, so much of which was concerned with opera in general, and Italian opera in particular. While not much professionally involved with opera, Algarotti had wide experience of what he was discussing ... The editor has annotated the work copiously ... He has identified numerous individuals mentioned by Algarotti, and provided an extended introduction which places the work in its historical context. The work has not been readily available in English for a considerable time and a new edition will be of great assistance to all students and scholars of the period.” – Julian Rushton, Emeritus Professor of Music, University of Leeds

“Algarotti’s Essay on Opera is an important document on the arts in the 18th century. A wide spectrum of information on the drama of an opera (its argument, form and business), musical composition, recitative and singing, dances, scenery, etc. and structure of the theatre is covered in six chapters on the elements involved in the creation of an opera ... the editor’s copious notes are an invaluable contribution to the work, adding appropriate, colourful and absorbing information which enlightens the text and gives it life. This new edition will be of great inspiration and help to all scholars, students and practising musicians concerned with the 18th century period.” – Nina Walker, Formerly of the Music Staff and Chorus-master at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden)

Table of Contents

Preface by Patricia Howard
Editor’s Foreword
Dedicatory Letter
1. Of the form, argument or business of an opera
2. Of the musical composition for operas
3. Of the recitative and singing in operas
4. Of the dances
5. On scenery, dress, etc.
6. On the structure of theatres
Aeneas in Troy
Iphigenia in Aulis
A short Glossary of certain terms used in this work
Index of Names

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