Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Letters to the Editor

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Letters to the Editor

Article excerpt

To the Editor,

I was intrigued by two recent articles in Journal of Singing regarding the relationship between gender and performance: Richard Dale Sjoerdsma's "Gender Specific" and Sharon Mabry's "The Road Not Taken."

In modern feminist scholarship, "gender" is typically viewed as a performed identity distinct and separate from biological sex. The elements of these daily performances (our clothing, hair, demeanor, interests, and so on) determine how the presentation of our gender is received in the social sphere. Gender, then, is not stuck in stone at birth, but constantly in a state of flux based on the perpetual to-and-fro of an individual's performance and an audiences reception. Though (as Dr. Sjoerdsma says) it may be "inconceivable" for us to think of a man singing Frauenliebe und -leben, it is only inconceivable because audiences have often "received" it in this way.

It is important to note that this was not always the case. One of the earliest public performances of the complete Frauenliebe und -leben was sung in Cologne in 1862 by the great baritone Julius Stockhausen, accompanied by none other than Clara Schumann (see Kristina Muxfeldt, "Frauenliebe und leben: Now and Then," 19th-century Music 25, no. 1 [2001]: 27-48). After much digging, I have not found any review of this performance, no mention of its peculiarity in the diaries and letters of either Stockhausen or Schumann; it apparently passed by without notice, without objection. Contrast this to the flurry of articles regarding Matthias Goerne's recent performance of the same cycle and of Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder. The controversy concerned not biological difference (how does the piece sound an octave lower? in a different tessitura?) but gender difference: can a man seriously sing "Du Ring am meinem Finger" with a straight face? But of course he can, and Stockhausen apparently did: just as a biological female can perform the markers of femininity, so too can a biological male, with equal amounts of sympathy and sincerity. If a modern performance of this song is interpreted by an audience as transgressive, this is a socially constructed response: it is not law, it has not always been so, and it is capable of changing. …

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