Magazine article Humanities

Tales of the Parisian Opera

Magazine article Humanities

Tales of the Parisian Opera

Article excerpt

Authenticity versus exoticism in operatic performances can be a fine line, especially when it involves nineteenth-century French representations of Spain. Emma Calvé's interpretation of Carmen, in Frenchman Georges Bizet's opera by the same name is a prime example, as made clear in the NEH-funded Music, Theater, and Cultural Transfer: Paris ?830-1914.

Calvé was born in 1858 in the Cévennes in the south of France, lived in Spain for four years as a girl, and was ushered to Paris as a young woman when it became apparent that a promising singing career lay ahead. Her debut at the Opéra-Comique was solid, but her career did not soar from the start, so she packed her bags and made for Italy to develop more fully as a singer for the opera stage.

In Italy, Calvé fell under the influence of Eleonora Duse. Calvé read and reread books on Duse, and attended many of her performances, responding profoundly to the authenticity in her acting. Calvé also did research and acquired life experiences that informed her own role in Italy as Ophélie in Hamlet. In order to create her own Duse-inspired authenticity, she visited an asylum and got to know a deeply distraught woman who had been rejected by her lover.

In preparation for taking on the role of Carmen, she again did her homework. …

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