Pasticcio opera in Britain

History and context

Peter Morgan Barnes
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A pasticcio opera is a new opera created from pre-existing parts, a creative process which has been in use for as long as the artform itself. This book argues that pasticcio is a method rather than a genre, one that was already widely used before the term was coined in the eighteenth century, and continued in use long after it dropped from favour. Nor is the method unique to opera: pasticcio poetry, plays, sculptures and film scores continue to be made. Yet all kinds of pasticcio art came under pressure in the nineteenth century as Romantic conceptions of originality and authenticity married with a rise in the importance of text over performance. A main argument in the study is that this shift from performance tradition to text was part of a wider societal transition from a proto-literate society with many oral inheritances – of which the pasticcio method was one – to a mass-literate society. A narrow canon and an ever-contracting operatic repertoire were the result in Britain, a contraction which continued for much of the twentieth century. Yet pasticcio did not disappear in the nineteenth century, as was once thought, and the book discusses its surprising continuation and proliferation. Today, it is enjoying a tentative revival.

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