Early Music Television

Culture Wars of Venice and the Birth of Public Opera

Like the "culture wars" we've experienced recently in America, the Culture Wars of Venice involved the arts and humanities, the arguments between conservatives and the progressives, the relationship between church and state, and especially the role of higher education in society. This hour-long program explains how the cultural issues in Venice around 1600 led to the birth of public, commercial opera around 1640.

The program is divided into three chapters. The first chapter focuses on two cultural battles around 1600: the rivalry between the University of Padua and the Jesuit College in Padua, and the musical controversy between the conservative music theorist Artusi and the progressive composer Monteverdi. Central figures in the former battle were the astronomer Galileo and the philosopher Cremonini. The second chapter explains how the students of Galileo and Cremonini, who became the intellectual and civic leaders of Venice in the early seventeenth century, developed the Accademia delgi Incogniti. This group of leading Venetian intellectuals missed the stimulating discussions they had experienced at the University of Padua with Cremonini and Galileo. They formed the Incogniti to fill this void. Protected by the Venetian government, the Incogniti fueled an explosion of publishing in Venice, particularly in the humanities. In the third chapter, members of the Incogniti became enthusiastic authors of opera librettos, producing many "hits," some of which are still produced today. Giulio Strozzi, father of the composer and singer Barbara Strozzi and one of the most successful Venetian librettists, appears as host, portrayed in character by the actor Tom Huston Orr. As eye-witness to the culture wars of his time and as co-creator of several of the earliest operas, Strozzi guides the viewers through a lively illumination of historical issues that have particular resonance in our own time.

The ideas and issues of the program are illustrated by musical performances by Armonia Celeste, the UNT Collegium Musicum and soprano Julie Davies. Music Director is Lyle Nordstrom. The program was filmed in Venice and Padua by Joseph Friedman, Director of Photography.

Produced and directed by Eugene Enrico.
Funded, in part, by Oklahoma Humanities and NEH.

DVD, 58:30

© 2024 Center for Music Television
Eugene Enrico, Director
School of Music
University of Oklahoma
Norman, OK 73019
Tel: (405) 325-3978
Fax: (405) 325-7574