Stage & Scene | Censorship in Opera | High Romantic | Opera
Opera censorship was a fact of life for nineteenth-century composers and librettists. Libretti were minutely picked over for anything that might give offence, encourage sedition or create public disorder. Censors even attended dress rehearsals to make sure there was no ‘improper’ scenery, costumes or stage business. The Spaniards, Austrians and French who occupied Italy at various times suspected the natives of sedition, rebellion or worse and fancied that they were at their most dangerous en masse. This made the opera house potentially dangerous, since it was virtually the only place in the Italian peninsula where large gatherings were permitted. Censorship came in various forms. Political censorship, which intensified after the revolutions of 1848, forbade operas to depict regicide or any behaviour that put royal personages in a bad or insulting light. Operas could also be censored on moral grounds, for example when the Roman censor allegedly baulked at the crystal shoe in Rossini’s La Cenerentola because fitting it exposed a naked foot in public. Verdi’s La forza del destino got into trouble for religious reasons; forza could mean ‘power’ as well as ‘force’ and, according to the censors, ‘destiny’ was not a power: the only power was God’s will.
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