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Paper Session
Nov 21, 2021 12:00 Noon - 12:50 PM(America/Chicago)
20211121T1200 20211121T1250 America/Chicago Opera Singers AMS 2021 ams@amsmusicology.org
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend: a singer’s jewels in the nineteenth century.
Individual Paper 12:00 Noon - 12:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 18:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 18:50:00 UTC

Jewellery was an essential element of the international female singer's armoury throughout the nineteenth century. Whether received as unofficial part payment, or as a gift from a local monarch, a diva's diamonds conferred not merely financial wealth but power and status; they were intimately linked to the question of value, both of the object itself and of the receiver of the gift, measured in monetary, artistic (and perhaps even moral) value.


This paper, which encapsulates the main strands of an extended research project on opera and material cultures, sets out some of the most well-known cases of star singers – particularly Adelina Patti – and their jewellery, its amplification of their aura (Simmel, 1908), and the quasi-regal status it conferred upon them. While diamonds, both off and on stage, symbolically and physically draw the eye, the bejewelled singer offers complex layers of culturally signifying meaning: she is simultaneously a voice, a singer, an actress, a character in a story and an adorned female body. The second section of the paper explores the 'work' of a singer's jewels. In an age of unstable politics, revolutions, fires and stock market crashes, jewellery was a good investment and insurance policy for singers whose careers could be cut short by ill health or pregnancy. But investing in jewellery meant keeping it safe, and the ways in which jewellery was stored and put to use to raise capital by pawning (or sale) are examined. Not all jewels were new and some were bequeathed from singer to singer, creating an operatic aristocracy to ape high-society practices. The dissimulation of real gems with paste substitutions and its consequences also allows for a reinterrogation of the questions of 'value' posed at the start.


Through the study of archival documents, memoirs, letters, press cuttings, biographical writing and images, this paper draws together operatic history, sociology, the cultural history of jewellery (Pointon, 2009) and 'thing theory' (Brown, 2001) to analyse, for the first time,  high-value aesthetic and consumer products in an operatic context, and to investigate the powers of bling.

Presenters
CR
Clair Rowden
Cardiff University
The Cadenza as Calling-Card: Improvisatory Remembrances in Nineteenth-Century Autograph Albums
Individual Paper 12:00 Noon - 12:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 18:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 18:50:00 UTC

On 2 January 1842 the Belgian soprano Julie Dorus-Gras, celebrated for creating roles in operas by Berlioz, Donizetti, and Meyerbeer, paid a visit to the young Parisian pianist Jenny Vény. Before they parted from each other's company, the singer signed Vény's autograph album and left a musical calling-card of sorts: a cadenza on the words "Ah, penser à moi" ("Ah, think of me"). The music is a model of the bel canto improvisatory style, filled with rapid scalar runs, chains of trills, a sustained high note, a chromatic flourish, and even a bit of portamento. Given all this, who could forget a vocal visitor such as Dorus-Gras? 


The nineteenth-century popularity of musical autograph albums such as Vény's (also known as keepsake or friendship albums, in German _Musik-Stammbücher_) owed much to a romantic fascination with autograph collecting. Yet despite the many prominent musicians represented among their pages, these albums have until recently attracted little scholarly attention. This is particularly true of an overlooked repertory of cadenzas penned by leading female vocalists between the 1830s and the 1860s – women such as Laure Cinti-Damoreau, Adelina Patti, Henriette Rossi Sontag, and Pauline Viardot, all of whom enjoyed sustained, international fame for their singing on both operatic and concert stages. These brief pieces, whether improvised for the recipient or offered as a token of an earlier performance, allowed a singer to gift something of their essence as an artist, to be contemplated as they were (or wished to be remembered). Because the cadenzas are accompanied by precise indications of date and place, many of them can be linked to specific performances of operas by Bellini, Donizetti, Meyerbeer, Rossini, Verdi, and others. Thus the relationship between notation and what audiences heard in the opera house is likely to be very close indeed – closer, perhaps, than with most other sources preserving vocal cadenzas from the period. In this paper, I explore how such improvisatory remembrances helped forge social and musical relationships while leaving revealing traces of the performer's art several decades before the advent of sound recordings.

Presenters
SZ
Steven Zohn
Temple University
Undesirable Voices: The Biomedicalization of Aging in Operatic Singing
Individual Paper 12:00 Noon - 12:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 18:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 18:50:00 UTC

In his collection of stories Evenings with the Orchestra (1852), Berlioz paints a bleak image of vocal aging. The voice of a fictional aging tenor is described as a "fragile instrument," the singer a tenuous deity reducible "to mortal ranks" as he ages. His voice, writes Berlioz, is lost to time, becoming in the ears of opera audiences a vulgar and lifeless musical object. Some 170 years later, contemporary voice medicine and pedagogy continue to echo Berlioz's attitudes, categorizing aging as a vocal pathology. Vocal qualities associated with aging- breathiness, uneven vibrato, and reduced resonance- are heard as deficits to operatic vocality.

I argue that biomedical discourses of "life course" in the nineteenth through the twenty-first centuries have shaped evaluations of classical vocalism by reducing the aging voice to an abject sonic entity. Decline narratives are the dominant modality for conceptualizing vocal aging, constructing a listening culture where aging is heard to disable singers' voices. Aging's stigmatized position in operatic aurality has led to an imperative among singers and other voice professionals to seek out rehabilitative therapies to maintain what I call a "requisite operatic vocality." While these therapies prolong careers, they simultaneously erase aging voices from operatic soundscapes. Turning to Nina Eidsheim's listener-centered vocal analysis (2019), I explore how aging voices are shaped in professional discourse by early gerontological knowledge of the aging body as a site for medical inquiry. This in turn entrains audiences to hear aging voices as antithetical to opera's vocal aesthetics.

Drawing on disability and age studies scholarship, I explore what this rehabilitative imperative says about opera as an inclusive art form. Who has access to vocal fitness? How do ableist rehabilitative discourses exclude aging voices from operatic soundscapes? What does opera's desire for young (read: pure, perfected) voices say about the art form's definitions of artistic competence, aging, and beauty? By examining vocal life course narratives in opera, I illuminate ableist and ageist listening practices in operatic vocality and suggest that the art form's fetishization of youthful voices comes at the cost of limiting its ability to express the fullness of human experience.

Presenters
MK
Michael Kinney
Stanford University
Stanford University
Cardiff University
Temple University
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