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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Book Bag: 'Landscape and Gender in Italian Opera'

Senici, Emanuele, et al., ed. Landscape and Gender in Italian Opera: The Alpine Virgin from Bellini to Puccini (Cambridge Studies in Opera) (Cambridge, 2005). [P-A-G-toc-exc]

Why the need to invent mountains where in reality there are none? In short, because the female protagonists of I Puritani and Le Pardon de Ploërmel, Elvira and Dinorah, are virgins. To be sure, the nineteenth-century lyric stage was densely populated by virgins who live happily in flat or modestly undulated lands, from Rosina in Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia (Seville) to Amelia in Verdi's Simon Boccanegra (Genoa), from Fenella in Auber's La Muette de Portici (Naples) to Charlotte in Massenet's Werther (a German town), from Marzelline in Beethoven's Fidelio (a castle near Seville) to Eva in Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Nuremberg). These characters' virginity is not one of their defining traits, however, nor does it constitute a central theme of the operas to which they belong – it is not the object of elaborate choral praise, for example. In the cases of Bellini's Elvira and Meyerbeer's Dinorah, though, bodily purity and what the nineteenth century considered its emotional and psychological manifestations, such as innocence and modesty, are emphatically thematised. In nineteenth-century opera the portrayal of an emphatically virginal heroine is often associated with a mountain setting, most frequently the Alps, where the clarity of the sky, the whiteness of the snow, the purity of the air function as symbols for the innocence of the female protagonist. The ideal playground for two virgins with a capital V, then, is the mountains, and amidst mountains they were duly placed, notwithstanding geographical reality. This conventional association between a vividly depicted mountain landscape and emphatically virginal female characters is present in all the main national traditions of nineteenth-century opera. Intro


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