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In a brilliant reassessment of British aristocratic culture, Hall-Witt demonstrates how the transformation of audience behavior at London's Italian opera - from the sociable, interactive spectatorship of the 1780s to the quiet, polite listening of the 1870s - served as a sensitive barometer of the aristocracy's changing authority. She explores how the opera participated in the patronage culture and urban sociability of the British elite prior to the Reform Act of 1832 when the opera served as the central meeting place for the ruling class during parliamentary session. The vertical tiers of boxes at the opera highlighted not only the gendered nature of elite political culture, but also those features of aristocratic society most vulnerable to critique by political and moral reformers. Hall-Witt shows how the elite adjusted its behavior in public venues, like the opera, partly in response to such criticisms. Offering a revised chronology for the decline of the British aristocracy based on such cultural compromises, Hall-Witt reveals how the very adaptations that helped the landed elite to survive as the ruling class into the Victorian period also undermined its ability to maintain its power in the long run.
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