AMSGNY Meetings

Abstracts for October 4, 2008 Meeting

Sonnenfels, Sympathy, and the Performance of Reform Opera
Amber Youell-Fingleton

“Bernasconi played Alceste with a truth (Wahrheit), feeling (Empfindung) and sympathy (Antheilnehmung) that are marveled at...”
So wrote Joseph von Sonnenfels in his Briefe über die Wienerische Schaubühne (1767-1769). This work, an eye-witness account of the first performances of Gluck’s Alceste (1767), may be most important for connecting Gluck’s opera with a notion of vital importance in the eighteenth century—sympathy. Often relegated today to studies of sentimental literature, sympathy was a broad phenomenon related to the contemporary fascination with the legibility of emotion through the expressive body. Bolstered by developments in contemporary medicine, theatrical sympathy demanded that performers use voice and body in radically new ways to communicate with their audiences. Sonnenfels’ record reveals a large-scale shift occuring in the performance and reception of theater, and helps us understand how reform opera functioned as living performance.

Amber Youell-Fingleton is a PhD candidate at Columbia University, writing a dissertation on Italian opera in Maria Theresa's Vienna; she also performs actively as a singer.

Singing History in Paris: The Case of Auber's Muette de Portici
Peter Mondelli

Why did the Paris Opéra, at the height of its influence and fame, turn to history for its subjects? And why did it invest so much effort and money into historical accuracy? Several scholars have investigated these questions by seeking out connections between historical operas and the ideologies of the reigning political and cultural institutions that sponsored them. This paper seeks to continue their work by posing a more radical question – what if these works received immense support because opera was the ideal medium for writing and disseminating history in the early 19th century?

Peter Mondelli is a Ben Franklin Fellow and Ph.D. candidate in the history of music at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is writing a history of the idea of voice told through the material cultures of reading and singing in 19th century Paris.

Melismatic Madness in the Age of Charcot
Sean Parr

In this paper, I will explore how the musical depiction of madness in opera can be viewed in the context of the medical diagnosis of hysteria. Mary Ann Smart (1994) has considered operatic mad scenes to lie somewhere between “representation and reality;” in much the same way Jean-Martin Charcot’s "hysteria shows," based on his self-described “museum of living pathology,” occupy a space that is neither overt theater nor fully true. Mad scenes from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s L’Etoile du nord (1854) and Le Pardon de Ploërmel (1859) and Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet (1868) reveal how sopranos became stylized, historicized icons of hysteria. Employing close readings of the music, I will also consider the original staging manuals (the livrets de mise en scène) which highlight the importance of the visual in mid-century opera mad scenes.

Sean M. Parr is a Ph.D. candidate in Historical Musicology at Columbia University where he is writing adissertation on the feminization of coloratura in mid-nineteenth-century French and Italian opera.

Reviewing the Revue: Unpacking the Textual and Musical References in The Passing Show of 1914

Through careful study of the early musical revue — a neglected area in musical theater studies—each specific show can be a window into the culture of theater-goers for that year. The revue catered to a society that attended nearly every theatrical event on the early Broadway stage, and this paper will use a single revue from a single year — The Passing Show of 1914 — to demonstrate these references. This study will not only provide a model for considering the revue as an important part of theater history, but will suggest the key to opening the social world surrounding nearly every aspect of the show.

Jonas Westover is a PhD candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center and is an adjunct instructor at Queens College and John Jay College. His main interests include musical theater, film music, and film musicals and he remains an active violinist in the New York area.

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