Graduate Research Colloquium: Prof. Reinhard Strohm (University of Oxford)
Women in 18th-century opera: the librettists’ view
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Whereas 19th-century opera has received a feminist assessment, however preliminary, in Cathérine Clement’s book Opera, or the Undoing of Women (1988), opera scholarship in general has still not acknowledged that the literary and musical representation of women in opera has always been subject to the “male gaze” – a bundle of attitudes including patriarchalism, sexualisation, sublimation, stereotyping and patronising. While some researchers are now taking a greater interest in the performative agency of women in the 18th-century opera business, opera criticism and practice continue to credit the male authors of texts and music with authoritative portrayals of women. In this brief survey of libretti by Lorenzo Da Ponte, Frederick II of Prussia and Pietro Metastasio, which also considers related settings by Mozart, Graun, Vivaldi and Handel, I explore the “male gaze” in 18th-century opera, especially where it seems to counteract the humanistic and enlightened ideals of its celebrated authors. The asymmetries are deep-rooted, not only in traditional male biases, but also in the circumstances of the secular theatre and its users. I am hoping to tell a cautionary tale: what these operas communicate to us about the women (and men) of their age, are not portraits taken from nature but masks, often covered by a heavy masculine make-up.
Prfoessor Reinhard Strom is Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of Oxford. He taught musicology at King’s College London (1975–1983 and 1990–1996), Yale University (1983–1990) and Oxford University (1996–2010). Strohm’s research addresses social aspects of European music c.1400–c.1800, the history of opera, musical historiography and the global history of music; see The Operas of Antonio Vivaldi (Florence, 2008); Studies on a Global History of Music: A Balzan Musicology Project (Routledge, 2018); The Music Road: Coherence and Diversity in Music from the Mediterranean to India (The British Academy, 2019); Transcultural Music History (Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung, Berlin, 2020).
About the series:
The Colloquia feature leading figures, as well as younger scholars, from across the world. They present their research in papers on all kinds of music-related topics. Graduate student Judith Valerie Engel organises the series. Presentations are followed by a discussion and drinks reception. If you would like more information, please email email@example.com.