Opera considered as state ceremony
This thesis attempts to show the ways in which governments treat opera as an institution, endorsing, through ceremony and ritual, the power of the state. Its main contention is that the opera institution (which combines opera companies and opera houses) is useful to the state and supported by it for reasons other than cultural. It will be argued that opera has performed these supra-artistic functions since its first performances, held as celebrations to commemorate important events in the ducal palaces of Italy in the 16th century. The institution of opera, and opera houses, have existed in England and France since the 17th century. Their remarkable permanence is investigated against the background of changing political and social events in those countries. Furthermore, in order to show that the hypothesis concerns the essential nature of opera and does not necessarily confine itself to the two countries investigated in detail, examples are given of state support of opera, in its European form, in other places. The argument is carried primarily by detailed investigation of the cultural histories of the states under examination, and by detailed exposition of the language which is used to describe opera. Thus the thesis rests on historical and cultural analysis, treating opera and opera-going primarily as a sociological phenomenon rather than as a musicological one. It has chosen not to deal with differences in repertoire, or with the differences in critical response to various opera productions, as it is a part of the argument that from the government perspective, details of stage performances are relatively unimportant. Of course the thesis does not deny that there will be many people who enjoy opera purely as an art, and who will make discriminating judgements between operatic performances, but insists that for nearly four centuries European governments have seen opera as transcending its artistic core, and have supported it for non-musical reasons. One important implication is that there exists a flaw in the reasons governments give for funding opera institutions. In the terminology of the 1990s they are presented as 'artistic flagships', in competition with other arts activities for state arts funding. If this argument is accepted, they should properly be excluded from any general 'arts budget', and should instead be financed by the same methods, and for the same reasons, as are other state palaces and state ceremonies.