Graduate Research Colloquium: Leverhulme Lecture with Professor Emanuele Senici (Sapienza Università di Roma)
Dancing Divas: La sonnambula on Video in 1950s Italy
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1950s Italy was an extraordinarily fertile ground for opera on video. The first half of the decade saw the release of several films of repertory works, while in 1954 Italian state television began studio broadcasts of up to a dozen operas a year. Television also ventured into theaters for live relays: the first time it “conquered the bastion” of La Scala – to echo the media discourse on the event – was in May 1955 for a new production of La sonnambula staged by Luchino Visconti, conducted by Leonard Bernstein and starring Maria Callas. Significantly, La sonnambula was also one of the very few operas to have been both filmed (in 1952, featuring Paola Bertini lip-synching to the voice of Fiorella Ortis) and broadcast from TV studios (in 1956, with Anna Moffo). These three Sonnambulas, differently re-mediated, together afford a prime opportunity to observe opera on video from a perspective both historical and comparative – still an unusual conjunction for this kind of study.
Taking my cue from recent work concerning opera on film and television (Esse, Morris, Ward-Griffin, Will), I will focus on a particular issue of remediation: the widely different ways in which these videos acknowledge or disavow the theatrical origins of the opera. Most curious in this sense yet common to these three Sonnambulas is their significant interpolation of dances, often involving the prima donna. I will consider the function of new “dance numbers” within the dramaturgy of the videos to reveal them as both marks and means of the processes of remediation. Placing these numbers in the context of dance in Italian film and television of the 1950s will then facilitate exploration of their cultural resonances with other screen genres, particularly the television variety show. This recontextualization will prompt wider reflections on the new kind of physical demands placed on singers, especially female singers, by the incorporation of dance, and, more broadly, on the social and cultural reconfiguration of their bodies promoted by the ever more widespread videoing of opera in the postward period, both in Italy and beyond.
Emanuele Senici studied musicology at the University of Pavia (Laurea 1993), at King's College London, and at Cornell University, USA (MA 1996, PhD 1998). From 1998 to 2000 he was Junior Research Fellow at Christ Church, Oxford University, and from 2000 to December 2007 University Lecturer in Music and then Reader in Musicology in the Oxford Faculty of Music (where he was Director of Graduate Studies), as well as Fellow of St. Hugh's College. Since January 2008 he has been Professor of Music History at the University of Rome La Sapienza, and since 2009 Visiting Professor in the Music Department of King's College London. In 2006 he was Edward T. Cone Member in Music Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, USA. His research centres on Italian opera of the long nineteenth century, on the theory and historiography of opera, especially issues of genre and gender, and on opera on video. Among his publications are ‘La clemenza di Tito’ di Mozart: i primi trent'anni (1791-1821) (Brepols, 1997), Donizetti a Casa Ricordi. Gli autografi teatrali (Fondazione Donizetti, 1998, with Alessandra Campana and Mary Ann Smart), The Cambridge Companion to Rossini (Cambridge University Press, 2004, as editor), Landscape and Gender in Italian Opera: The Alpine Virgin from Bellini to Puccini (Cambridge University Press, 2005), Giacomo Puccini and His World (Princeton University Press, 2016, co-edited with Arman Schwartz) and Music in the Present Tense: Rossini's Italian Operas in Their Time (University of Chicago Press, 2019). Between 2003 and 2008 he was co-editor of the Cambridge Opera Journal (Cambridge University Press).
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 students Chuyu Zhang and Eugenie Dalgleish organise the series. Presentations are followed by a discussion and drinks reception. If you would like more information, please email Chuyu Zhang.