In Italy the nineteenth century was the century of operatic theatre. The truthfulness of this statement emerges from Sorba's absorbing study, entirely dedicated to the development of theatres in Italian cities and the primary role which opera played in the country's Risorgimento. Exactly one hundred years after Verdi's death, this study commemorates a remarkable period of Italy's musical culture. The volume starts off by describing the boom in theatre construction at the beginning of the nineteenth century, which introduced so-called "city theatres" into even the most remote areas of the country. The author highlights the social function of theatres (which reproduce social hierarchies) and the major melodramatic productions (Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi) which played a decisive role in the creation and circulation of nationalist-patriotic Risorgimento imagery, which spread quickly throughout the tightly woven network of theatres held together by impresarios. Important channels for the emotional education of Italians, theatres were, in the most crucial years of the Risorgimento, an efficacious thermometer of the country's political effervescence. What is most surprising - and the volume clearly explains this - is the decline experienced by theatrical structures and opera productions after the country's unification, when the disappearance of royal courts, the municipal governments' financial weakness and the decreasing popularity of box-holding deprived the previously strong theatrical system of its lifeblood.
Carlotta Sorba teaches History of the Risorgimento in the Faculty of Letters at the University of Padua.