Phaedra's Handmaiden: Tragedy as Comedy and Spectacle in Seventeenth-Century Opera

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Scopus citations


This chapter explores the tension between theory and practice in mid-seventeenth century Italian opera, characterized by an apparent lack of interest in the literary substance of ancient tragedy and an almost excessive preoccupation with its theoretical underpinnings. The first part examines some of the contemporary writings about theatrical genres, including several of the oft-cited comments of Venetian librettists, in which the persistent self-deprecating and apologetic manner has been taken by scholars as evidence of the librettists' awareness of the literary inferiority of their creations. It demonstrates how these comments coalesced into a surprisingly coherent aesthetic - one in which the trappings of tragedy were readily translated into spectacle and comedy. The second part of the chapter considers how this aesthetic manifested itself in several operas that adopted elements from Greek tragedies. It examines in particular the performance of Fedra incoronata ('Phaedra Crowned', 1662), the first part of an elaborate trilogy presented in Munich to celebrate the birth of Maximilian II Emanuel (1662-1726), son of Ferdinand Maria, Elector of Bavaria, and Henriette Adelaide of Savoy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAncient Drama in Music for the Modern Stage
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780191808432
ISBN (Print)9780199558551
StatePublished - Sep 2 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


  • Comedy
  • Fedra incoronata
  • Greek tragedy
  • Italian opera
  • Librettists
  • Opera libretto
  • Phaedra crowned
  • Spectacle


Dive into the research topics of 'Phaedra's Handmaiden: Tragedy as Comedy and Spectacle in Seventeenth-Century Opera'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this