Giovanni Vittorio Rosi's Musical Theatre: Opera, Operetta and the Westernisation of Modern Japan

Matsumoto, Naomi. 2017. Giovanni Vittorio Rosi's Musical Theatre: Opera, Operetta and the Westernisation of Modern Japan. In: Michela Niccolai and Clair Rowden, eds. Musical Theatre in Europe 1830-1945. Turnout: Brepols, pp. 351-385. ISBN 9782503577661 [Book Section]


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Abstract or Description

In fin-de-siècle Europe 'popular musical theatre', flourished and appealed to the middle classes unlike the somewhat onerous and alienating opera. Adapted and translated, a work of musical theatre sometimes surpassed national boundaries. Thus, nowadays the genre is often discussed in association with 'globalisation'.
The prime aim of this article is to examine the apparently 'global' nature of musical theatre from a unique line of enquiry: how musical theatre in Europe reached Japan in the early twentieth century and how it developed an 'afterlife' there. As an example, this article examines the role of the Italian dancer/director Giovanni Vittorio Rosi (1867-?) who was instrumental in that cultural encounter. He, as a mime and choreographer, appeared at La Scala and enjoyed a successful career in London’s major musical halls before arriving in Japan. This article first traces those features of Rosi’s career in Europe which pre-disposed him to undertake his unusual Japanese venture, before analyzing the works he 'transported' to Japan. Rosi hoped to convey to Japanese audiences lighter and flexibly adapted versions of European works, and these adaptations represented for Rosi something of an ideal marriage of the artful and the accessible. However, Rosi’s venture was ultimately thwarted since he was not fully aware of the complexity of Japan's cultural landscape at that time. Supported by the cultural agenda of the Japanese government, who identified 'modernization' with 'westernization' both economically and culturally, Japanese intellectuals desired to establish a 'national musical theatre' under the strong influence of Wagnerian ideals − a desire incompatible with Rosi's ideas.
In conclusion, this article argues that those operatic products shown in Japan at the beginning of the 20th century were not a shabby reflection of a grander western tradition, but a viable attempt of syncultural construction. This view not only casts a new light on our perception concerning cross cultural encounters, but poses new questions regarding the ‘meaning’ of western opera itself.

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Book Section


opera, musical theatre, operetta, globalisation, Japan, hybridisation,

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December 2017Published

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Date Deposited:

28 Nov 2017 15:27

Last Modified:

09 Mar 2021 11:46


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