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Research project

New Evidence on the Circulation of Italian Opera in Seventeenth-Century Spain

Project overview

The dissemination of opera across diverse socio-cultural and political milieux during the early modern time is one of the most compelling and yet underexplored topics in the field of opera studies. My work explores issues of circulation, production and politics of opera through two of the most prominent patrons of music in seventeenth-century Italy, Roman Prince Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna and his wife. Following their personal and institutional travels to Venice and to Spanish territories, my project traces the journeys of opera scores and libretti but also of the singers, composers and librettists whose art reached these far away corners of the Italian peninsula, changing to serve the social and political purposes of the Prince.
During my months of research in the Colonna Archive (Biblioteca di Santa Scolastica, Subiaco) I discovered unpublished documents that shed new light on Colonna’s musical patronage in Spain during the three years in which he was Viceroy of the Kingdom of Aragon (1678-1681). Spanish resistance to Italian culture, which was integral to the construction of Spanish national identity and artistic idiom during the seventeenth century, has hitherto discouraged scholars to search for traces of the circulation and influence of Italian opera on Spanish musical theatre of the time. The new evidence I discovered, however, reveals a completely different picture. In particular, a folder that contains inventories drawn up at the time of Prince Colonna’s relocation to Spain indicates that he brought an extraordinary number of Italian opera scores and libretti with him, disregarding bans and prohibitions against foreign musical theatrical genres. This deliberate action must be considered as a highly political move by Prince Colonna to italianise the Spanish court in the same way as Cardinal Mazarin had two decades earlier attempted to do in France. Furthermore, these documents are of capital importance also because among the scores of Italian operas Colonna brought to Spain, a few are considered lost and might still be preserved in Spanish archives. Even if scores and libretti were used only for his and his court’s private consumption, I believe these premises are strong enough to open a new historiographic line of enquiry on the circulation of Italian scores and libretti in Spain and on their possible influence on local artists and musical genres. This project investigates the body of Italian operas Colonna brought to Spain and how they represent his cultural agenda. It also addresses the question of the reception of the Italian Viceroy’s cultural policy in Spain, the kind of entertainments he attended and sponsored and his political measures to promote Italian culture.


Lead researcher

Dr Valeria De Lucca

Associate Professor

Research interests

  • Early modern opera
  • Patronage and systems of music production
  • Singers and performance practice
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