Bookmark and Share
Click for larger image

Fashionable Acts
Opera and Elite Culture in London, 1780-1880
Jennifer Hall-Witt



Becoming Modern: New Nineteenth-Century Studies

University of New Hampshire Press
2007 • 404 pp. 21 illus., 10 tables 6 x 9 1/4"
British & European History / Opera


$50.00 Hardcover, 978-1-58465-625-8



"Following in the footsteps of scholars like Rachel Cowgill, Hall-Witt discusses the gender divide, here tracing the role of women as the social "doorkeepers" while men busied themselves with running the country. The author describes how the opera house changed as the British economy and political hierarchy became more merchant driven . . . This is a book for those interested in British cultural history . . . Recommended."
Choice

A vibrant look at changes in British elite culture through the lens of opera-going

In a brilliant reassessment of British aristocratic culture Hall-Witt demonstrates how the transformation of audience behavior at London’s Italian opera—from the sociable, interactive spectatorship of the 1780s to the quiet, polite listening of the 1870s—served as a sensitive barometer of the aristocracy’s changing authority. She explores how the opera participated in the patronage culture and urban sociability of the British elite prior to the Reform Act of 1832 when the opera served as the central meeting place for the ruling class during the parliamentary session. The vertical tiers of boxes at the opera highlighted not only the gendered nature of elite political culture, but also those features of aristocratic society most vulnerable to critique by political and moral reformers.

Hall-Witt shows how the elite adjusted its behavior in public venues, like the opera, partly in response to such criticisms. Offering a revised chronology for the decline of the British aristocracy based on such cultural compromises, Hall-Witt reveals how the very adaptations that helped the landed elite to survive as the ruling class into the Victorian period also undermined its ability to maintain its power in the long run.

Click here for TABLE OF CONTENTS

Reviews:

" . . . scrupulously researched, sharply focused. . . [an] admirable piece of scholarship.”—Times Literary Supplement

"In a reassessment of British aristocratic culture, Jennifer Hall-Witt demonstrates how the transformation of audience behavior at London's Italian opera - from the sociable, interactive spectatorship of the 1780s to the quiet, polite listening of the 1870s - served as a barometer of the aristocracy's changing authority." —OPERA America Newsline

"The author describes how the opera house changed as the British economy and political hierarchy became more merchant driven . . . Recommended." —Choice

Endorsements:

“This book exposes lucidly how the aristocracy ‘refashioned’ opera and its own place in public life while confronting Reform and a changing society. It is a model study of evolving cultural dynamics among the upper classes.”—William Weber, Professor of History, California State University, Long Beach

“Fashionable Acts is an intriguing new take on some vexed questions about audience attitudes and the cultural meanings of opera. Hall-Witt expertly traces opera’s changing role in London from Georgian to Victorian times, showing its gradual transformation from social event to aesthetic experience. With theoretical sophistication and meticulous research, she engages economic, political, and social histories to offer a detailed and lively picture of the performative and representational acts constituting opera’s social meaning. In particular, Hall-Witt supplies an element that has been largely unexplored until now: the role of gender in the transformation of opera-going as a cultural practice.”—Ruth A. Solie, Sophia Smith Professor of Music, Smith College



Author Photo

JENNIFER HALL-WITT is an independent scholar who teaches part-time at Smith College.






Fri, 21 Feb 2014 10:53:37 -0500