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

By Wendy Heller | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
Messalina la Meretrice
Envoicing the Courtesan

STAGING VENUS

He who praises the female sex lives greatly deceived. Women have always been (I speak only of the bad ones, with no prejudice against the good ones) the corrupters of mankind and the infection of nature. Woman is the inventor of sin, and the road paved with death. She is an infernal volcano that outwardly offers snow that entices, but inside hides fire that burns. She is the devilish spring that flatters with flowers but conceals serpents. She is the unlucky comet that delights the eyes with splendor, but presages death for the mind; she is a disguised witch that under a benign appearance conceals dreadful harpies. She is a tragic theater, where, as in a majestic apparatus, one sees the death of hearts.1

BONAVENTURA TONDI, La femina origine d'ogni male; overo, Frine rimproverata (1687)

In 1687 Bonaventura Tondi, an abbot and the royal chronicler of the town of Gubbio, published a book entitled La femina origine d'ogni male; overo, Frine rimproverata. Tondi's slim volume, the opening passage of which is cited above, is perhaps one of the most virulent contributions to the debates about women published in seventeenth-century Venice. Written nearly a century after Giuseppe Passi's I donneschi difetti and some fifty years after the height of Incogniti influence in Venice and the arrival of public opera there, Tondi's treatise surpasses nearly all of his predecessors in its brutality and unequivocal anti-female message.

Tondi's use of Frine (Phryne) in the title clarifies the nature of the evil and the type of woman in question. Phryne was a notorious courtesan in fifth-century Athens, famous for her beauty and lascivious nature, her insistence upon monetary rewards for sexual favors, and and her congress with Greece's most learned philosophers. 2 As the mistress of the sculptor Praxiteles and the model for his statues of Aphrodite—in which he presumably captured the depth of his passion—Phryne was also renowned for

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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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