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Opera in the Tropics, by a University of Southern California musicologist, describes how in the early 1820s, after Brazil’s independence from Portugal, Italian operas became fashionable as a change from Portuguese entertainments.

Even with freedom, Budasz notes, the life of opera performers was challenging: ‘Being an actor was hardly a professional choice to the white elite, for whom being identified as a professional performer would result in social ostracising… Theatrical workers were subjected to humiliation and punishment on a scale that would be unacceptable by 21st-century standards.’

Between 1821 and 1822 at the Teatro São João in Salvador, provincial capital of the state of Bahia, a generous choice of operas was heard, including Don Giovanni and Rossini’s Barber of Seville, The Italian Girl in Algiers, Aureliano in Palmira, Cinderella, Tancredi and Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra. There was even audience interest to justify productions of Vincenzo Pucitta’s little- recalled Henry IV of France’s Hunting Party (1809) and La vestale (1810) both of which had premiered in London.

Budasz argues that operas, formerly programmed as a ‘distraction from the wrongdoings of colonial administrators,’ later focused on political and aesthetic differences between the Portuguese and indigenous Brazilians – a national debate that continues even today.

Benjamin Ivry Read the full review on Agora Classica

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