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TRAMES. A Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences
ISSN 1736-7514 (Electronic)
ISSN 1406-0922 (Print)
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Full article in PDF format | DOI: 10.3176/tr.2016.3.02

Vlado Kotnik


This article investigates the social and cultural facets of a very unusual operatic project from Belgrade, Serbia, related to the constitution of the Opera and Theatre Madlenianum, a private opera house officially founded in 1997 and opened in 2005 by Madlena Zepter as its single patron and donor. Here we discuss the reasons why a rich individual would build, hold and run her own opera house and theatre in these times when the tradition of such acts of giving by wealthy and powerful people seems to be more or less a far distant echo of previous centuries, if not almost an entirely extinct cultural practice. To better understand this contemporary operatic endowment, a rough historical out­line of opera patronage throughout the centuries will be offered. Besides patronage studies, incorporated with the significant definitional contributions of some sociologists, historians, economists and musicologists, this interpretation brings into discussion certain interesting academic output, initially the anthropological about gastarbeiters and elites, and further on from the vast interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary field of gift theory, repre­sented here through its two fundamental conceptual aporias, reciprocity and generosity. The conclusion which is made is that Madlena Zepter’s Madlenianum is a parasitical gift generating, paradoxically, her person of interests (reciprocity) through her philanthropic performances of disinterestedness for the Serbian nation (generosity), and by mixing these two contrasting identities successfully transforming economic capital into social, cultural and symbolic capital. More concretely, opera is used here as a personalised social manifest and as an ultimately visible seal on one’s philanthropy, lifestyle and money.


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