• "To make them gaze in wonder": emotional responses to stage scenery in seventeenth-century opera

    Katrina Grant (see profile)
    Item Type:
    Book chapter
    Baroque, Opera, Set Design, Scenography, History of Emotions
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    While the capacity of music to move the emotions has received a good deal of attention from musicologists, philosophers, and psychologists, the history of set design has not considered how these sets created immersive environments that induced an affective response. Instead, the attitudes expressed by Addison continue to cast a long shadow over research into music and the performing arts. Twentieth-century scholarship has often been dismissive of set design, regarding it as formulaic, unimportant, and a distraction from the serious poetry and sublime music. This dismissal of scenography has come about because set design has typically been studied only on the margins of musicology, art and architectural history, and theater studies. This is, in part, because there are virtually no opera sets that survive from the baroque period, requiring them to be reconstructed from drawings made as part of the design process and from engravings made after to commemorate the sets. These are typically monochrome and two dimensional, whereas in reality sets were vividly colored and three dimensional. In addition, much of the serious scholarship that has been done has concentrated on the progression of visual technologies.9 Studying the emotional effect of stage sets prompts us to look more closely at their reception, rather than at their construction. To understand how audiences reacted to the visual aspect of a performance is important not only because it fills in another missing piece in our attempts to reconstruct what a theatrical performance was like in the baroque period, but also because the visual spectacle itself generated so much controversy. There were endless debates, along similar lines to those discussed above, about whether operas should have sets, and whether performances were too focused upon the magnificence of the setting and the ingenuity of the machines at the expense of the poetry and narrative
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