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

By Wendy Heller | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Semiramide and Musical Transvestism

AMAZONS AND WARRIORS

The confusion of gender characteristics implicit in Jove's adoption of Diana's identity in La Calisto is played out somewhat differently in the Venetian operas that focus on female warriors. Women warriors present a special opportunity for heroic self-definition. Whereas the abandonment of sensual, foreign women usually protects the hero, freeing him to pursue a glorious destiny away from feminine influence, battle with a warrior woman is also an important means of proving male prowess. In grappling with the great warrior queens or the amazons, the hero's conflict moves from the realm of Venus to that of Mars. These women provide a different sort of threat: they do not fight men with the traditional “female” weapons of beauty and magic, drawing men into their effeminate, lascivious circle of sexual desire. Rather, they engage with them on their own terms, with weaponry, physical strength, and cunning in battle. Like Diana and her band of nymphs, the warrior women crave chastity and autonomy; they are more interested in hunting and male pursuits than in love, and they can be conquered only by superior strength or—as the Incogniti pointed out—the “force of love. ” Indeed, as reflected in so many ancient and early modern sources, male heroism often required both the abandoning of a woman and the conquering of a female warrior. Theseus may well have insured his heroism by abandoning Arianna on the island of Dia; yet, he also affirms his prowess through the conquest of the amazon Hippolyta by marrying her. 1 Although Aeneas had triumphed in Carthage through the submission of Dido, Virgil still contrived for his hero to conquer the warrior woman Camilla, thus excluding her from the noble Roman lineage that Aeneas was to establish (Aeneid, book 11). And in sixteenth-century epics, the taming and conversion of such warrior women as Bradamante—placed in juxtaposition with the alluring sorceress Alcina —was essential to the creation of the early modern hero.

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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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