Paper Session
Nov 11, 2021 11:00 AM - 11:50 AM(America/Chicago)
20211111T1100 20211111T1150 America/Chicago History, Imagery, and Allegory in 18th-Century Musical Drama AMS 2021
From Milton to Hamilton and Handel: Darkness, Judgment, and Enharmonicism in _Samson_
Individual Paper 11:00 AM - 11:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/11 17:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/11 17:50:00 UTC

Contrary to the passing nature of darkness caused by a total solar eclipse, the astronomical event depicted in the aria, "Total eclipse," in Handel's Samson (1742) offers no hope of re-emerging light. As a metaphor for Samson's blindness, the eclipse is described with bewilderment and distress equal to the trauma of losing sight. The librettist, Newburgh Hamilton, draws the majority of his text for the oratorio from John Milton's Samson Agonistes (1671). With respect to scientific knowledge on the eclipses, however, the two works are from completely different eras. They are separated by a major discovery in 1715 by an English astronomer, Edmond Halley, who explained the eclipses as natural events, refuting their long-held view as terrifying supernatural phenomena that brought tragic consequences and change. Superstition did not immediately die out with science, but the fact that Milton's tragedy predates, and Hamilton's libretto postdates, Halley's explanation is important in understanding the difference in their treatments of the metaphor. 

This scientific historical context, hitherto not considered in the scholarship on the oratorio, offers an important insight into Hamilton's adaptation and alteration of Milton's text. It helps identify Hamilton's updating of Milton by omitting his scientifically inaccurate attribution of doom to the eclipse, while providing the basis for determining Hamilton's assignment of a different cause for the condemning weight of darkness. In the latter half of the aria, the librettist alters the eclipse reference to allude to darkness of the celestial bodies as a sign of divine judgment in the Bible. This new textual reading calls for a new consideration of Handel's musical setting. It invites a comparison of the aria to Handel's other compositions on the topic of darkness and divine judgment, broadening our understanding of his musical language. The study reveals Handel's use of similar tonal framework and enharmonicism in conveying intense physical and spiritual torment. This paper's examination of historical, literary, biblical, and musical contexts for "Total eclipse" unveils an unexplored layer of darkness in the aria and the oratorio as a whole.  

Minji Kim
Of Strong Women in_La Guerra de los Gigantes_(1701)
Individual Paper 11:00 AM - 11:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/11 17:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/11 17:50:00 UTC

Towards the end of scene 5 in the opera_La guerra de los gigantes_by Sebastián Durón, the goddess Minerva defeats the giant Palante by stabbing him to death. In the next scene, she celebrates the victory of the deities over the giants with Jupiter and Hercules, and thus ends the opera. Why does Minerva strike the final death blow? Why not Hercules or Jupiter, who were seen as the embodiment of omnipotence and manliness, respectively? Previous research has revealed that this opera was written for the wedding celebration of either King Philip V of Spain or the Count of Salvatierra. Further, that research proposed that_La guerra de los gigantes_was conceived as an allegory of the War of the Spanish Succession (Antonio Martín Moreno, 2007; Pastor Comín, 2012, and Raúl Angulo Díaz, 2016). None of these studies, however, have examined the intriguing role of Minerva. 

This paper explores this little-known opera through the lens of Minerva. Building on current research, I argue that Minerva was intended to represent the bride and future consort queen of Spain, Maria Luisa of Savoy (1688–1714). I begin by exploring Minerva's characteristics--namely those of beauty, chastity, and manliness--and I suggest that Minerva represents a model of the perfect woman and wife as described in Spanish conduct books of the period. I then examine a few little-known texts of the era that discuss Maria Luisa's strength and virility, while drawing parallels between these writings and Durón's opera. I propose that Minerva's strength was meant to mirror the queen's fortitude. I further suggest that, through the use of allegory, the authors of this opera and those who commissioned it elevated the royal bride to the category of the ideal wife. An examination of_La guerra de los gigantes_adds to our increasing understanding of early opera, while shedding light on early modern discourses on women. 

Maria Virginia Acuna
University Of Victoria
Picturing Polly and Framing Macheath: Iconography, Music, and Gender in _The Beggar's Opera_
Individual Paper 11:00 AM - 11:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/11 17:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/11 17:50:00 UTC

What can we learn from surviving iconography of _The Beggar's Opera_? Perhaps the most gaping hole in the performance history of this influential work is our understanding of its long tradition of cross-dressing. As dozens of surviving images from the eighteenth century attest, it was common for ingénues and practiced actresses alike to don breeches in order to play the hyper-masculine Macheath. It was less common for men to appear in petticoats to play the opera's female characters, but iconography shows that this practice occurred as well. 

The trend for cross-dressing _The Beggar's Opera_ began with a benefit performance in March of 1730, billed as _The Metamorphosis of The Beggar's Opera_. The practice grew into an oft-repeated tradition, reaching its apex in 1781 when two competing cross-cast productions were staged at the rival Haymarket and Covent Garden theatres. _The Morning Herald_ announced that the "ridicule was so heightened" by the travesties "that it was impossible to conceive anything so thoroughly burlesque." Many audience members were appalled. The famous castrato Ferdinando Mazzanti was so disgusted after attending one cross-dressed performance that he announced that he would not return to the theatre until the heroines ceased being acted by "old bass singers with beards." The Covent Garden production closed after only four performances, but the Haymarket adaptation was a success. The cross-dressing tradition extended well into the nineteenth century, as extant iconography corroborates.

This paper helps to enlarge our understanding of _The Beggar's Opera_ as a cultural artifact by linking its long performance history to related imagery in the eighteenth century. It also elucidates the gender stereotypes and gender subversion acted (and sounded) out on the musical stage in Britain. Drawing on manuscript performance materials held in the Larpent Collection of the Huntington Library, including added scenes for cross-cast productions, I reconsider a variety of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century depictions of characters and scenes from _The Beggar's Opera_. I connect these images to other documentary evidence to find new ways of thinking about the most significant English musical theatre work of the eighteenth century.

Vanessa Rogers
Rhodes College
University of Victoria
Rhodes College
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