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‘Che il pubblico non venga defraudato degli spettacoli ad esso promessi’: The Venetian Premiere of La traviata and Austria’s Imperial Administration in 1853
Based on new documents from the delegazione provinciale at the Archivio di Stato di Venezia, this article provides a novel perspective on the role of the Austrian administration in the 1853 premiere of Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at Venice’s Gran Teatro. While the difficulties concerning the premiere of La traviata are well known, scholars have had only limited insight in the political and administrative circumstances of the work’s original production. In assessing the role of these files the main interest is not to rewrite the history of La traviata’s premiere, but to understand how provincial theatres interacted with the imperial administration. The documents show that irrespective of nationalist tensions in the aftermath of the revolutions of 1848, the Austrian authorities were extremely keen for the production of La traviata to take place, to the point that they threatened the theatre with financial consequences in case the production was cancelled or the commencement of rehearsals delayed. According to the Empire’s luogotenente, the Venetian citizenry had every right to see Verdi’s new opera in order to be given what it had been promised in the contracts signed between the impresario and their principal theatre. In underlining these contractual obligations, the luogotenenza showed that they honoured the principle of representation in local politics that had distinguished Austrian rule since the times of Maria Theresia. The luogotenente’s intervention in favour of La traviatareveals the regime’s remarkable appreciation for Italy’s foremost composer, but it also underlines how the Empire, through its provincial administration, mediated between the theatre and the municipality; and it shows that the motives behind their actions were not ideological concern, but cultural ambition, and a desire to meet the expectations of local audiences.
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