Nineteenth-Century Studies Seminar

Nineteenth-Century Studies Seminar
Date
23 Feb 2018, 17:30 to 23 Feb 2018, 19:30
Type
Seminar
Venue
Gordon Room, G34, Ground Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU
Description



Nineteenth-Century Opera

To coincide with the V&A’s exhibition Opera: Passion, Power and Politics.

Kate Bailey (Senior Curator Theatre and Performance, Victoria and Albert Museum) - 'The Passion, power and politics of nineteenth century opera: Creating a V&A exhibition'

Flora Willson (Lecturer in Music, King’s College London) - 'Nellie Melba and global opera in the 1890s'

By the late nineteenth century, opera had become fundamentally international: transport and communications networks enabled performers and works to circulate more widely than ever before. Within this self-consciously “modernised” operatic culture, the Italian bel canto repertoire—the so-called “Italian tradition”—occupied a problematic position. A handful of works by Rossini, Donizetti, and Verdi continued to be performed; but they were frequently decried as old-fashioned, the vocal technique they demanded seen as obsolete.

The arrival in Europe of Australian soprano Nellie Melba, however, marked a crucial shift. In the early 1890s Melba became not just an operatic star in London and Paris but a mass-media celebrity—one closely associated with that ageing Italian tradition. What’s more, as the singer’s own global trajectory continued with her triumphant 1893 debut at the Metropolitan Opera, Melba-fever led to a repopularisation of bel canto even among New York’s famously Wagner-loving audiences.

This paper explores the tensions between Melba’s status as an explicitly modern media celebrity and the apparently outdated repertoire that she sang. Tracing Melba’s reception in London, Paris, and New York at the century’s end, I explore the complex meanings of one “national” operatic tradition in a self-consciously global context—seeking ultimately to trace the impact of opera’s international mobility on the still-shifting boundaries of the operatic canon.


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Contact

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