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Madness may remain silent in fiction, but not in opera. In giving voice to the madness of Lucia in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, his adaptation of Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor, librettist Salvadore Cammarano departs not only from the novel’s coy supernaturalism, which permit’s Lucy’s otherwise inexplicable madness to be attributed to unseen forces beyond her control, but also from the concept of reality implied in that supernaturalism. Whereas Lucy’s madness seems to consist in a demonic possession, Lucia’s consists in the creation of a subjective reality that is consistent with itself but not with the events enacted on stage. Thus the concept of reality implied in the opera—a reality divided between what is inside and what is outside the mind—is essentially Lockean.
Rescue operas developed along two somewhat different lines: “tyrant” operas and “humanitarian” operas within the general category of “opera semiseria,” or “opéra comique.” The first type corresponds to the conservative British “loyalty gothic,” with its focus on the trials and tribulations of the aristocracy, while the second type draws upon the Sentimental “virtue in distress” or “woman in jeopardy” genre, with its focus on middle class characters or women as the captured or besieged. The first category emphasized political injustice or abstract questions of law and embodied the threat of tyranny in an evil man who imprisons unjustly a noble character. Etienne Méhul’s Euphrosine and H.-M. Berton’s Les rigueurs du cloître (both 1790) are typical examples of the genre. “Humanitarian” operas, on the other hand, do not depict a tyrant, but instead portray an individual—usually a woman or a worthy bourgeois—who sacrifices everything in order to correct an injustice or to obtain some person’s freedom. Dalayrac’s Raoul, Sire de Créqui (1789) or Bouilly’s and Cherubini’s Les deux journées (1800) are examples, along with Sedaine’s pre-1789 works. But why, we might ask, were gothic dramas quickly transformed into gothic operas or what are known now as “rescue operas”? This essay examines the social and political ideologies that are explicit in the major gothic operatic adaptations of the most popular gothic novels of Britain, while at the same time examining British opera’s very close connections with French models as well as French adaptations of British cultural works.
The suddenly undecidable moment when one is both inside and outside oneself is De Quincey's recurring predicament, for whether he is on paper or on opium, there is a fundamental disappropriation which opens the intimate experience of opium onto the extimate experience of community. This essay examines the main contours of this disappropriation through an analysis of De Quincey’s deployment of musical figures and specifically the opera singer Josephina Grassini in his theorization of being-on-opium in Confessions of an English Opium-eater. Grassini’s public persona is as important as her inimitable voice to De Quincey’s explication of the effects of opium because she was quite famously Napolean’s lover. This amorous affiliation is a vital component in De Quincey’s account of opium experience because the erotic dynamics of Grassini’s performance allow us to specify the conflation of sexual and patriotic desire in De Quincey’s text. The apocalyptic form of British nationalism which is so vital to the coherence of the opium subject is inflected by a series of violent erotic fantasies crystallized around Grassini’s performances in the King’s Theatre. This essay contends that the nationalist gestures embedded in the invocation of Grassini can be elucidated by engaging with De Quincey's understanding of the relationship between tragedy, opera and community. This particular conjunction of theory and practice establishes a way of articulating the relationship between political and aesthetic experience that stays with De Quincey throughout his career. For example, his essay “Theory of Greek Tragedy.” which was published almost twenty years after the Confessions, underlines not only the analogy between tragedy and opera that animates his descriptions of the operatic scenes in the Confessions, but also the responsibility of both forms of theatre to the consolidation of the state. The ontological disturbance effected by opium is put in abeyance by an investment in sexualized phantasms of national identity that involve both a consolidation that is constantly on the verge of incoherence and a ruthless practice of othering.
This essay argues that Tennyson’s “The Princess,” frequently attacked as an anti-feminist poem, is more nuanced and potentially feminist than many critics have acknowledged. The poem’s exploration of gender roles emerges as especially challenging and thoughtful in comparison to the extreme gender conservatism of Gilbert and Sullivan’s musical parody, “Princess Ida.” Where Gilbert and Sullivan shrink all aspects of female character to sexual desire, Tennyson treats the female aspirations in his poem with considerable seriousness and respect. Ultimately, the reversion of the characters in “The Princess” to traditional gender roles seems based not upon fear of a new kind of femininity but upon fear of a new kind of masculinity. Tennyson’s poem implies that women can develop intellectually without threatening men’s stature, but men cannot develop emotionally and spiritually without losing worldly power. In that implication lies a tacit admission of the emptiness of Victorian society’s claims that women could wield power through moral authority. Moral authority, Tennyson implicitly confesses, has no real force in the world.
This article explores the late Victorian fascination with the defunct voice of the operatic castrato as manifest in two texts by Vernon Lee — Studies of the Eighteenth Century in Italy and “A Wicked Voice” — and in George Du Maurier’s Trilby. Each text imagines a revenant castrato, using the life and body of the violated singer as a source of enchantment and endless aesthetic speculation. Though these texts implicitly acknowledge their exploitive nature, they lack the self-mastery to resist the pleasure of making the surgically altered and socially wanting castrato serve perfection fantasies. Still, the representations of the revenant castrato bear with them a social and moral history that interrupts the pleasure of speculation and highlights the brutality of what art lovers have nominated as an ideal.
This paper examines the recent fascination the Broadway musical has had with Victorian gothic, focusing both on the transition from opera seria to Disneyesque musical and on one specific cultural product, Paul Gordon and John Caird’s 2000 Broadway production, Jane Eyre: The Musical. The paper claims that this particular hybrid of two notoriously hybrid nineteenth-century forms (the novel and opera) defangs both of its source genres, but nevertheless still allows its middle-class audience to participate in the spectacle of their own self-definition as consumers of “culture.” The production also allows that audience to congratulate itself for having escaped the bourgeois repressions that arguably made the gothic such a viable genre in the Romantic and Victorian periods. The fact is, though, that contemporary viewers of the Broadway gothic musical do still experience the frisson of a repressed terror: the return to a postmodern world that scripts our camp appreciation of such kitsch entertainments.
In the years leading up to and away from the Reform Act of 1832, opera and politics came into alignment for writers of silver fork fiction, particularly Catherine Gore and Lady Charlotte Bury. The King’s Theatre in the Haymarket, the home of Italian opera in London, provided them with a politically charged public space for women, one of the few available, in which they could examine the consequences of political reform on women’s lives, particularly the conflicts faced by aristocratic women before the irresistible force of middleclass social mores. Through the King’s Theatre with its stairs, corridors, boxes, and class-differentiated spaces, the silver fork novelists track the consequences of Whig politics. Employing Italian opera as a national trope both for its aristocratic associations and its symbolic plots, Gore and Bury mount a probing assessment of contemporary political change through a fusion of fashion and politics.