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Senici, Emanuele

Music in the Present Tense

Rossini’s Italian Operas in Their Time

Series:Opera Lab: Explorations in History, Technology, and Performance


    71,95 € / $82.50 / £65.00*

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    October 2019
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    Aims and Scope

    In the early 1800s, Rossini’s operas permeated Italy, from the opera house to myriad arrangements heard in public and private. But after Rossini stopped composing, a sharp decline in popularity drove most of his works out of the repertory. In the past half century, they have made a spectacular return to operatic stages worldwide, but this recent fame has not been accompanied by a comparable critical reevaluation.

    Emanuele Senici’s new book provides a fresh look at the motives behind the Rossinian furore and its aftermath by examining the composer’s works in the historical context in which they were conceived, performed, seen, heard, and discussed. Situating the operas firmly within the social practices, cultural formations, ideological currents, and political events of early nineteenth-century Italy, Senici reveals Rossini’s dramaturgy as a radically new and specifically Italian reaction to the epoch-making changes witnessed in Europe at the time. The first book-length study of Rossini’s Italian operas to appear in English, Music in the Present Tense exposes new ways to explore nineteenth-century music and addresses crucial issues in the history of modernity, such as trauma, repetition, and the healing power of theatricality.


    352 pages
    45 line drawings, 2 tables
    Professional and scholarly;

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    Emanuele Senici is professor of music history at the University of Rome La Sapienza, Italy. He is the author of Landscape and Gender in Italian Opera: The Alpine Virgin from Bellini to Puccini and the editor of the Cambridge Companion to Rossini.


    Music in the Present Tense opens up the world of early nineteenth-century Italy as one that is full of paradoxes, the first symptom of which is Rossini’s operas. In the wake of the trauma of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic invasion, Rossini’s music takes its place in an uncertain relationship between culture and reality, where the musical signifier is unhinged from meaning, and where the pleasure in and of his music appears as a form of unthinking. Rossini’s operas, so Senici demonstrates, take the form of a compulsion, of obsessive self-borrowing, of metatheatrical self-referentiality, and as such constitute a music in the present tense. Senici offers reflections on such key terms as repetition, style, genre, and modernity as they came to play in preunification Italy; he does this in a compositional structure that is itself Rossinian.”
    — Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg, Brown University

    “With beguiling erudition and imagination, this remarkable book illuminates the musical, historical, and psychosocial mechanisms behind the wild success of Rossini’s Italian operas—once the most obsessively talked about, the most compulsively repeated, and the most intoxicatingly ‘new’ of new music. Music in the Present Tense consists of an intricately designed succession of interlocking essays that together elaborate a powerful cumulative argument about opera and society in early nineteenth-century Italy and the relationship between Rossini and the fraught experience of modernity tout court.”
    — Nicholas Mathew, University of California, Berkeley

    Music in the Present Tense is without doubt the most compelling study of Rossini’s Italian operas yet written, but such a description only hints at the suggestive power of Senici’s multifaceted approach. Through a series of interlinked thematic essays, he argues compellingly for the unprecedented popularity of these works as a response to (and reflection of) the traumatic Italian experience of post-Napoleonic modernity, and as a repository for the obsessions, pleasures, and anxieties of their time.”
    — Benjamin Walton, University of Cambridge

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