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

By Wendy Heller | Go to book overview

Conclusions

Seventeenth-century Venetian opera presented to its public an extraordinarily diverse group of heroines who embodied in both sound and deed those qualities most admired and feared in the female sex. Created in the ancient world and refashioned in early modern times to suit a variety of political and social purposes, these women are our witnesses to the enduring significance of ancient texts and images in opera, that most dramatic and baroque manifestation of the humanist project. These were not frozen, static images to be treated with reverence and caution; rather, like the many classical statues whose broken appendages were imaginatively completed by early modern sculptors, the women of Ovid, Tacitus, and Virgil were an endless source of fantasy and creativity, absorbing contemporary attitudes with surprising ease. Constructed and reconstructed in countless subtle variations, our heroines could support or challenge authority, they could teach virtue or inspire erotic fantasies, and through word, song, and deed could express an astounding variety of moral, political, or artistic perspectives. They thus brought to the operatic stage complex literary, artistic, and historical traditions with which to testify about early modern Venice, opera, and women, both on and off the stage.

An important part of this testimony concerned conceptions of female virtue and the female body, which had been inherited from such authorities as Aristotle and Galen and subtly reconfigured to accommodate the political and social realities of the early modern world. From Didone, Ottavia, and Messalina we learn about the incompatibility of female power and sexual autonomy, and hear demonstrated the apparent conflict between female chastity and vocal eloquence. Semiramide's exchange of identities with her son demonstrates the importance accorded speech and sound in the social construction of gender. The operatic treatment of Calisto serves as a cautionary tale about the relative biological instability of the human

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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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