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A History of Feasts and Opera

The enjoyment of food and entertainment has long been an important social ritual. The tradition of the roman banquet is often described as a feast for the senses, and was an opportunity for a host to impress his guests not just with the bounty of his larder, but with extravagant entertainment. “The final component of the banquet was its entertainment, which was designed to delight both the eye and the ear. Musical performances often involved the flute, the water organ, and the lyre, as well as choral works.” 1

Composers in the 16th century developed works specifically for their wealthy patron’s feasts. In European cities restaurants and cafes began to provide music in their establishments for their diners. In his “A Tribute To Vienna With The Philharmonics” Joseph Joachim cheekily wrote, "a more unintellectual, eating and drinking, dancing and music-loving people do not exist than the good people of Vienna. As long as they can eat gebackene Hendel at the Sperl, or dance in the Augarten, and listen to the immortal Strauss as he stamps and fiddles before the best waltz band in Europe" -

As in life, so too is the feast a part of many a good opera. While the meal itself often occurs

off stage. There are several famous operas where the feast is part of the onstage storytelling, including The Elixir of Love, La Boheme, and La Traviata. In fact, Pierpaolo Polzonetti wrote an essay examining Verdi’s use of food as a plot device (“Feasting and Fasting in Verdi’s Operas). Polzonetti identified what he considered to be Verdi’s four laws:

  • A meal is never sad.

  • Hunger is never happy.

  • A shared meal or drink is a socially cohesive event.

  • The presence of food or drink precludes immediate catastrophe (unless poison is involved).

And now a test for you. You have received an invitation from your friend, Flora, who is holding a masquerade ball with food and drink, gambling and games. Entertainers have arrived to perform for the guests, singing – "We are gypsy girls who have come from afar, we are matadors from Madrid.” Yes! You are waiting for Violetta and Alfredo to arrive in Act 2, Scene 2 of La Traviata.

Join us in October and enjoy the tradition of feasting and music at our An Operatic Feast, October 8 and 9. On Friday, October 8th we will be at the Jacksonville Beach Brunch Haus, beginning with a happy hour at 6:00 PM. Saturday, October 9th will find us in St. Augustine at the St. Anastasia Catholic Church, with a meal catered by La Cocina. At the latter, a VIP Reception is offered beginning at 5:30. General Admission at 6:00.

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