How Often Do You Think About the Roman Empire? Opera as Lyric Imperium

Join us for a talk on opera and race by Jessica Peritz (Yale) author of award-winning monograph, The Lyric Myth of Voice: Civilizing Song in Enlightenment Italy (U of California Press, 2022).

Wednesday, March 27, 2024  •  4:00-5:30 PM  •  Haldeman 041, Kreindler Conference Hall (or on Zoom)

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This talk explores how the once prestigious, now largely forgotten musical-theatrical genre of opera seria deployed "history" as a worldmaking technology in the eighteenth century. Opera seria revolved around foundational scenarios of colonial empire-building borrowed from the classical past: Caesar's victory over Cato in Africa, Alexander's conquest of India, Aeneas' transcontinental journey to found Rome. Significantly, however, these ancient histories were temporarily hybridized with presentist tropes of racialized sentimentality in order to reinforce the political ideologies of eighteenth-century Europe—making opera seria into a performative proxy for the contested legacy of Rome, the "originary" Western empire. By showing how operatic performance projected new potentialties for the present, this talk argues the opera seria turned the fantasy of a transhistorical Roman Empire into a virtual reality.

Jessica Gabriel Peritz is Assistant Professor in the Department of Music and Affiliated Faculty in Italian Studies and Early Modern Studies at Yale University. A cultural historian of the long eighteenth century, she studies the relationships between voices, bodies, and politics in Italian opera. Her first book, The Lyric Myth of Voice: Civilizing Song in Enlightenment Italy (University of California Press, 2022), was awarded the Scaglione Prize in Italian Literary Studies by the Modern Language Assosication. Her articles are published in the Cambridge Opera Journal, the Journal of Musicology, and the Journal of the American Musicological Society, and forthcoming in the Journal of the Royal Musical Association. Her work has won numerous prizes and fellowships from, among others, the American Musicological Society, the Mellon Foundation, and the American Academy in Rome. Her current book project, entitled Histories Out of Time: Opera Seria and the Limits of Historicism, interrogates the assumptions of modern historiography by exploring alternative configurations of temporal experience through the performance culture of Metastasian opera seria.

This event is part of a series from the Venn Vision group, "Intermedial Sounding: Conversations on Race, Media, and the Senses" featuring speakers Jessica Gabriel Peritz (March 27), April Graham-Jackson (April 17), and Jonathan Sterne (May 1).

This talk is free and open to the public. If you have any access needs for attending this event, please contact Yiren Zheng (


This lecture series is supported by the Leslie Center for the Humanities at Dartmouth College.