Role and Influence of Impresarios. Premises of Italian Opera Performances in the 18th Century

Dr. Richard Erkens

On the one hand, the research project focuses on the figure of the impresario and its influence on the historical developments of opera, on the other hand it refers to changing operatic topography in pre-revolutionary Italy, characterized by centre and periphery networks. Although the group of people who assumed the function of impresarios in the 18th century could not be more heterogeneous, the scope of their activity and thus their influence on operatic performances in all institutional forms of theatre, court theatre, academic theatre, and commercial theatre was of paramount importance. Those responsible for decision-making processes such as recruiting performers and selecting librettos, those responsible for technical, administrative or financial implementation and the operative management of evening events, also determined the qualitative and aesthetic conditions in which opera could take place. According to the working thesis, the impresario was the authoritative voice in laying the foundations of a performance; pointedly formulated the spiritus rector of the conditions under which they could occur.
The relevance of this figure in the history of opera seems unquestionable. However, it continues to be overshadowed in real and scientific perception by the event of the performance itself. This mechanism of preparatory activity should be broken down into its complexity by an interdisciplinary study. To reconstruct the conditions under which impresarios made, had to make, executed, and shaped decisions in various contexts, as well as exploring the horizons in which they could operate, is seen to be a worthwhile challenge for the 18th century, being precisely the century in which the topography of Italian production systems was consolidated, resulting in the "opera industry" of the 19th century.
The reconstruction of the decision horizons of an impresario, the varying degrees of influence in the production process, will be structured by the following key questions: Which decision-making powers were assigned to an impresario in the various types of theater? Which communication channels or personal networks could he use? What experience and knowledge of other theatres and cities did he possess? When and how he had to mediate between different groups (monarchy/box owner, audience, and artistic staff)? Which innovations did he have to facilitate or which developments were shaped by him? Who, and in what way, can shifts, developments and innovations that took place within Italian opera topography be traced back to?
With the help of these perspectives, which focus on the impresario and his field of activity, an attempt will be made to gain a deeper understanding of the production mechanisms at the time and to find further explanations for historical developments in opera, which have already been illustrated by musicology and cultural studies as well as socio- and political-historical research.

Dr. Richard Erkens
Researcher Music History 2015–2020