Intersections Study Day

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14:00–15:50 Session 4. Digital encounters

Nicolò Palazzetti, Sapienza Università di Roma,

Opera lovers as fans: Analysing fan communities in the digital age

Opera lovers are often portrayed as ‘obsessive and maniacal’ (Alberto Mattioli). Despite such clichés, musicologists have largely overlooked fans. While a history of opera fandom is missing, fan practices are constantly evolving. Recent scholarship has addressed the digital diffusion of opera; moreover, digital fan communities are now well known in popular music studies, sound studies and theatre studies. Opera (cyber-)fandom, however, is largely under-researched.

This paper analyses today’s opera fandom through a qualitative and comparative methodology combining digital ethnography with on-site participant observation at opera houses (such as the Teatro alla Scala in Milan and the Metropolitan Opera in New York). In this paper, I also investigate the extensive background literature available in fan studies about different fan communities (from sport to social tv, from comics to cars). Concepts and methods developed within the field of fan studies may significantly enrich the sociological analysis, as proved by Daniel Cavicchi’s research on 19h-century music lovers (2011) and Claudio Benzecry’s ethnography on Teatro Colón’s aficionados (2011). Fan scholars have extensively looked at the dynamics of fan-based cultures and their engagement with media. Henry Jenkins’s now classic analysis of fandom (Textual Poachers, 1992), for instance, examines how fans re-create and ‘poach’ media products. Fans develop distinctive patterns of social interaction and new cultural productions emerge from the community’s shared passion. Internet has reinforced fan communities, helping networked fandom in promoting certain sub-cultures.

In a period in which the COVID-19 pandemic is challenging our conceptions of live performance, the study of opera fandom is pivotal to reconsider the legacy of a centuries-old practice and looks at its possible futures.

Nicolò Palazzetti is a postdoctoral researcher at La Sapienza University of Rome. His current project, funded by a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship (2022–2024), investigates opera fandom in the digital age. Prior to join La Sapienza, Nicolò was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Strasbourg and a Teaching Fellow at the University of Birmingham. He completed his PhD in 2017 at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris. Nicolò has written several peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on 20th-century music and theatre, music, and politics, as well as on opera fandom (Journal of Modern Italian Studies, The Opera QuarterlyInternational Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of MusicRivista Italiana di Musicologia). His first monograph, Bela Bartók in Italy. The Politics of Myth-Making, was published by The Boydell Press in 2021.


The Didone Project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC)
under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme,
Grant agreement No. 788986.