Emblems of Eloquence: Opera and Women's Voices in Seventeenth-Century Venice

By Wendy Heller | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Bizzarrie Feminile
Opera and the Accademia degli Incogniti

With the Venetian Accademia degli Incogniti, the ambivalent views about gender that characterized seventeenth-century thought intersected with the developing genre of opera. Founded in 1630 by the writer and Venetian patrician Giovanni Francesco Loredano, the Incogniti included nearly all the prominent intellectual patricians of Venice, along with many nonVenetians who were to become active in the Venetian literary-intellectual world. 1 The Incogniti dominated literary life in Venice in the middle part of the century, publishing extensively on topics that ranged from the serious to the seemingly frivolous: histories, poems, letters, plays, novelle, and travesties of the classics. They also played a prominent role in Venetian political life. Regardless of their often controversial literary activities, the Incogniti were ardent patriots, active in Venetian government, and strongly committed to the preservation of state and perpetuation of Venetian mythology.

The Incogniti's sphere of influence also extended to the emerging opera industry in Venice. It is perhaps a fortuitous coincidence that the height of Incognito prestige should have so perfectly coincided with the growing popularity of the new genre. 2 By the early 1640s members of the Incogniti were not only engaged in opera as librettists and impresarios, but may also have been involved in the establishment of a new theater, the Teatro Novissimo. 3 Astutely, this intellectual community recognized the potential of the new genre as a means for prominent Venetians to acquire prestige both locally and internationally, and as a vehicle for propaganda. As a centerpiece of carnival, opera was inherently linked to subversive modes of expression; it was thus an ideal public venue for the covert expression of private philosophical, moral, and political ideas in play within Academic circles. Thus, the peculiar ideologies of the Accademia degli Incogniti were to become an integral part of opera's conventions, practically from its inception in Venice.

Under Incogniti influence opera not only informed its viewers and lis-

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Emblems of Eloquence: Opera and Women's Voices in Seventeenth-Century Venice
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Illustr Ations ix
  • Tables xi
  • Preface and Acknowledgments xiii
  • Editorial Principles xvii
  • Abbreviations xix
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - The Emblematic Woman 27
  • Chapter 2 - Opera and the Accademia Degli Incogniti 48
  • Chapter 3 - Didone and the Voice of Chastity 82
  • Chapter 4 - Woman and Empire 136
  • Chapter 5 - The Nymph Calisto and the Myth of Female Pleasure 178
  • Chapter 6 - Semiramide and Musical Transvestism 220
  • Chapter 7 - Envoicing the Courtesan 263
  • Conclusions 295
  • Notes 301
  • Bibliography 353
  • Index 371
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