The Invention of the “Great Repertoire”

Institutionalization Process and Construction of Contemporary Lyrical Standards: The Case of Aïda
By Emmanuel Pedler


As Edward W. Said shows in his book Culture and Imperialism, Aïda represents for Verdi a turning point in his career by its exemplary inscription in an international context. While cutting the career of Giuseppe Verdi differently than a lot of musicologists, Said shows the importance of the context and of the symbolic direction of the composition of this opera, created in Cairo. Although the pages written by Said about this opera remain of topicality and maintain a great acuity, sufficient conclusions are yet to be drawn from the political reading which he proposes. From the First World War, the French repertoire—almost exclusively turned towards a Franco-French culture of the opera—was marginalized in the international repertoire whose canons were being set up then. The Italian opera of the 19th century, hitherto known in France, but not recognized and not adopted, made its entry in France, introduced by the international career of Aïda. Writing the history of the emergence of the contemporary lyric repertoire—which has been of an astonishing stability since the twenties and thirties—is still no easy task. In a preliminary analysis, we would like to outline only some articulations of this history while insisting on the political articulations of opera at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.
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