Informations and abstract
Today we think of opera as a high culture form of artistic and musical expression. Although the commercial element remains important, opera is above all an artistic genre of elitist reputation and a cultural means of exclusion and therefore of reproduction of social inequalities. Yet this characterisation - like the all others predicated on a strong dichotomy between high culture and popular culture - is not natural but the product of social history. Drawing on studies conducted in the United States on the emergence of cultural hierarchies and the creation of institutional systems to define and reinforce cultural boundaries between genres and social groups, the paper examines the process of constitution and institutionalisation of a high culture model in the field of Italian opera. It does this through a historical analysis of the institutional and social transformations of one of the most prestigious opera houses in Italy and in the world, La Scala of Milan, from its origins to the 1920s, when the institutional model of the so-called "Ente autonomo", was created. The Ente autonomo was non-profit organisation which was afterwards extended - but in a publicised and statalist form - to other opera houses in Italy during Fascism. Focusing on Toscanini's organisational innovations, and his role as a cultural mediator between Italy and America, the paper also develops some comparative considerations about the historical relations among urban cultures, cultural industries, and global culture.