Bodily Charm: Living Opera

By Linda Hutcheon; Michael Hutcheon | Go to book overview

2
The Body Dangerous

As an art form, opera has always been self-conscious about singing, despite the fact that, as Carolyn Abbate and others have emphasized, the convention of opera is that the singers are actually deaf to the [music-drowned world] in which they live.1 We have already seen that many early operas focused on Orpheus, the singing poet, and Wagner's Tannhäuser and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg stand as nineteenth-century epitomes of opera about the singer. But dance – the Dionysian body in motion – has also been an important part of opera historically, from the days of the Renaissance precursors of opera, the intermedi and the pastoral plays, which involved both music and dance.2 As we saw in the Prelude, the ending of Monteverdi and Striggio's Orfeo (1607) brought the story of the ascending Orpheus and Apollo back down to earth with a dance performed by the shepherds and shepherdesses. While dance here clearly reasserts the earthly and the bodily (that is, the realm of the audience), it is arguably not exactly central to the drama. While this relatively peripheral divertissement role persisted in seventeenth– century French and English court entertainments, by the eighteenth century, especially in France, operatic dance came to be used to express in bodily terms emotions that could not be expressed in words. While Italian opera seria never exploited this emotive power of dance, Gluck and Calzabigi's Orfeo ed Euridice (1762) certainly did, incorporating into the second act a ballet that did indeed further the dramatic action as well as heighten the emotional tenor of the work.

Classical ballet as a separate art form came into prominence in the nineteenth century, developing out of [the mute action of

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Bodily Charm: Living Opera
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Bodily Charm i
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Before We Begin … - An Introductory Note on the Operatic Body in Context xiii
  • Prelude - Restoring Opera''s Bodies 1
  • Act1 - Represented Bodies 37
  • 1 - The Body Beautiful 41
  • 2 - The Body Dangerous 85
  • Act 2 - Real Bodies 113
  • 3 - The Performing Body 117
  • 4 - The Perceiving Body 153
  • Postlude - Atoast to Opera''s Bodies 183
  • Notes 207
  • Bibliography 293
  • Index 341
  • Lincoin Lecture Series 348
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