Verdi, the Virgin, and the censor: the politics of the cult of Mary in I Lombardi alla prima crociata and Giovanna d'Arco
Journal of the American Musicological Society, 60, (3), . (doi:10.1525/jams.2007.60.3.557).
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Christian elements and themes developed rapidly in mid-nineteenth-century Italian culture. This essay concentrates on Giuseppe Verdi's I Lombardi alla prima crociata (1843) and Giovanna d'Arco (1845)—the first nineteenth-century Italian operas to include explicit references to the Virgin Mary. Whereas Giselda's prayer to the Virgin in I Lombardi was allowed by the censors with only one minimal emendation, evidence in the autograph score of Giovanna d'Arco reveals that numerous relevant Marian elements in this opera were modified or suppressed. The different attitude of the Milanese censors toward the two operas, both premiered at La Scala, may at first seem contradictory. Examined in the context of contemporary cultural ramifications of the cult of Mary, however, these works and their censorship acquire new meanings, shedding light on the intersections between religion and politics in the phase of the Risorgimento leading to the revolutions of 1848–49. On the one hand, Giselda's character and her prayer embody the feminine mildness, faith, and passivity characteristic of the Catholic-liberal movement, hardly posing a threat to the political and religious status quo. On the other, the Marian elements in Giovanna d'Arco suggest an appropriation of this religious icon for the purposes of an overtly revolutionary agenda, and thus prompted the intervention of the censors. What may at first seem a straightforward instance of religious censorship bears profound political implications, suggests that the censors operated according to contextual or semantic (rather than merely textual or lexical) criteria, and invites a more nuanced perception of the political meanings of Verdi's works prior to 1848.
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