Performing Fascism: Opera, Politics, and Masculinities in Fascist Italy, 1935-1941

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Roger Griffin notes that “there can be no term in the political lexicon which has generated more conflicting theories about its basic definition than ‘fascism’.” The difficulty articulating a singular definition of fascism is indicative of its complexities and ideological changes over time. This dissertation offers fascist performativity as a theoretical lens to better understand how Italian composers interacted with fascism through sustained, performative acts while leaving space to account for the slipperiness of fascist identities.

Although opera thrived in fascist Italy (1922-1943), extant scholarship on this period of music history remains scant, promoting a misleading narrative of operatic decline in the twentieth century. This dissertation examines the positions of four Italian opera composers within fascist culture by focusing on the premieres of four operas during the Italian fascist period: Pietro Mascagni’s Nerone (1935), Gian Francesco Malipiero’s Giulio Cesare (1936), Ottorino Respighi’s Lucrezia (1937), and Ennio Porrino’s Gli Orazi (1941). These musical settings of romanità (Roman-ness) were part of Mussolini’s efforts to glorify ancient Rome, a central tenet of fascist ideology.

In fascist Italy, a political society that extolled masculinity and musical composition, experiences of difference were often hidden beneath a guise of hypermasculine rhetoric. Opera composers associated with the fascist regime were almost exclusively men and in a patriarchal society with prescribed gender norms, they performed gender. I situate each composer through an investigation of their relationship with the regime, through musical analysis, and an account of the reception of their operas. While not all the composers included in this dissertation were outspoken fascists, or even confirmed members of the National Fascist Party, they nevertheless performed fascism to obtain favor with Mussolini and the fascist regime.






Crisenbery, Elizabeth (2020). Performing Fascism: Opera, Politics, and Masculinities in Fascist Italy, 1935-1941. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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