The project explores the philosophical and political questions raised by the ten opera librettos by the Tuscan poet Ranieri Calzabigi (1714-1795), in the context of their musical settings, their original productions and contemporary audience responses, as well as in the context of the philosophical enquiries of other Enlightenment writers. While some of Calzabigi’s librettos, including those for Gluck’s operas Orfeo ed Euridice, Alceste and Paride ed Elena, are based on Greek myths and explore extreme emotional states, such as mourning, compassion, infatuation, delirium and terror, other librettos have contemporary settings, while the romantic, pseudo-historical plots of his last two librettos are set in the ‘dark’ Middle Ages. Some of his non-mythological dramas are among the politically most progressive opera librettos of the entire eighteenth century, dealing in a highly critical manner with such charged topics as American slavery and maltreatment of Native Americans, British divide-and-rule imperialism in the Pacific, the oppression of women as a remnant of feudal society, and European chauvinism and nationalism in the encounter with the Oriental Other. The project aims to investigate how the tyranny, inhumanity and hypocrisy of Western patriarchy are represented and critiqued in these largely forgotten works, which are united by Calzabigi’s consistent engagement with Enlightenment anthropology as developed by such thinkers as Rousseau and Diderot.

The project is supported by the Swedish Research Council.

Publications related to the project

  • “Terror and Intoxication: Calzabigi’s Ipermestra o Le Danaidi (1778/1784),” in Darkness Visible: Tragedy and Tragic Opera in the Enlightenment, ed. Blair Hoxby (forthcoming).
  • “A Song of Other Times: The Transformation of Ossian in Calzabigi’s and Morandi’s Comala (1774/1780)”, in LIR.journal vol. 11 (2019), 24-47. To the publication at LIR.journal's website.
  • “The Judgement of Rousseau: Paride ed Elena by Gluck and Calzabigi (Vienna, 1770),” in Rousseau on Stage: Playwright, Musician, Spectator, ed. Maria Gullstam and Michael O’Dea (Voltaire Foundation: Oxford, 2017), 255-84.
  • “Legacy of an Anti-Patriot: Calzabigi’s Elvira in Naples, 1794,” in Stage / Page / Play: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Theatre and Theatricality, ed. Anna Lawaetz and Ulla Kallenbach (Multivers: Copenhagen, 2016), 37-54.