Abstracts

Session 1

Eric Clarke: Being there: performing and hearing interiority in music

Over much of the long history of European writing about music, music has been credited with affording special access to people’s internal states – a kind of privileged window onto subjectivity. In this paper I trace some of the ways in which music may be considered to perform interiority/subjectivity, and how listeners may hear interiority in music, drawing both on eighteenth century (proto-)psychological ideas and more recent psychological principles. In doing so, and in relation to the title of the conference as a whole, I address questions of presentation and representation, of the ways in which voices and instruments afford experiences of interiority, and of the role of empathy, sympathy and sentiment (cf. Adam Smith, 1759) in hearing and performing an inner life.

 

Alistair M. C. Isaac & Luís Duarte d’Almeida: Soaring Moments: Psychological Complexity in 18th Century Opera

One trend in the history of opera has been the gradual transition from stories involving primarily stock characters (legendary heroes, famous kings, types of the Commedia dell’arte, . . .) to those including more diverse and realistic figures, recognizable from everyday life.  Intuitively, this shift opens up the possibility of a more subtle inner life for operatic characters.  But evaluating this intuition requires both an understanding of psychological complexity, and an analysis of the distinctive means by which opera as a medium portrays psychological states.  For the former, we draw on contemporary research in social cognition, including work on the “theory of mind” by which we attribute beliefs and desires to other agents.  For the latter, we identify two relevant considerations: the temporal duration of a psychological situation (a moment, a scene, an act, the overarching plot), and the means by which it is presented (music, libretto, staging, performance).  We find that the intuition holds for only some combinations of these features.  For others­—music’s power to depict and express emotion in an aria, for example—the possibility of psychological complexity has remained fixed since the inception of the medium.  We illustrate these points with examples from the 18th century, when the transition at issue was especially acute.

 

Session 2

Marco Beghelli: The aria “all’unisono” as a representation of negative interiority

The aria “Fuor del mar ho un mare in seno” from Mozart’s Idomeneo is made memorable by its powerful opening with the full orchestra running through the notes of the D major chord doubled in perfect unison or in octaves. This is a typical example of a grandiose beginning, as if it were a ritual launch, with trumpets and timpani, easy to find in many instrumental works by Mozart. Nevertheless, the same musical structure returns soon after to support the first phrase of the singing, itself in unison with the orchestra, so that it comes to be identified with Idomeneo’s words “Saved from the sea, I have a more raging sea within my bosom”.  Thus the unisono becomes the expression of a negative interiority, represented not only through words but also music.

As we know, Mozart employed the general unisono between the voice and the orchestra as an expression of negativity throughout his vocal works: P. P. Várnai has already recorded a number of occurrences (NRMI 1969), from Mozart’s very first known aria written at the age of nine (“Va’, dal furor portata” K. 21) to his last opera (there are many examples for Monostatos in The Magic Flute). But the unisono is obviously not a stylistic feature only of Mozart. Grout (A Short History of Opera) wrote that «Accompaniments of this sort were fashionable in Italian opera around 1700» and mentioned the names of Keiser and Scarlatti among the first composers. At a later stage, Strohm (Italienische Opernarien des frühen Settecento) confirmed that hypothesis pointing out that the unisono was one of the most typical instrumentation techniques in the early 18th century.

Handel’s operas present many cases of arias all’unisono which will be investigated in my paper. The question is to what extent the general unisono is a mere compositional technique or rather a subtle psychological insight into the consciousness of the character, a device to represent the negative interiority and not only to depict in music the negative meaning of the words uttered.

 

Adriana de Feo: I rivali generosi by Apostolo Zeno (Venice, 1697) and the representation of the ‘inconstancy of passions’ in the opera seria

The centrality of passions in the opera seria, particularly by Metastasio, is already anticipated in that crucial period of the libretto-history at the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The representation of interiority in eighteenth-century opera’s libretti and the instability of affections, necessary for the action of the drama, will be analyzed in Apostolo Zeno’s libretto I rivali generosi (Venice 1697).

I rivali generosi is the first libretto in which Zeno deals with an historical subject, after the arcadian-pastoral themes of Gl’inganni felici (1696), Il Tirsi (1697) and Il Narciso (1697). In I rivali generosi appears the moral topic of Virtus focusing on the idea of the magnanimity of the ruler (of the sovereign’s munificence); these issues are already raised in Il libro del cortegiano by Baldassarre Castiglione, where, in keeping with the ideals of moral philosophy of Renaissance and Humanism, generosity is seen as the prince’s virtue par excellence.

Zeno puts at the heart of his libretto the contrast of affections in the human soul. Already in the “avviso al lettore” he declares the complexity of one of the protagonists, the Goth king Vitige, immediately defined as “incostante ne’ suoi affetti”; Zeno continues by describing the passions that drive the actions of the characters. Of capital importance appears to be the figure of the great Byzantine general Belisario, especially in opposition to the barbaric behavior of the king of the Goths Vitige. In addition to the generosity of Belisario, is emphasized that of the rivals in love, the Greek princes Ormonte and Olindo (the ‘generous rivals’ of the title), making the love affair in this libretto secondary to the concept of nobility of soul.

The libretto had a very wide reception and was repeatedly revised during the eighteenth century, highlighting the faceted protagonists as in Belisario in Ravenna (Florence, 1698) or Elpidia (London, 1725).

In my paper, Zeno’s poetry will be analyzed in the context of the importance of passions for the psychological categorization of the characters, which, in addition to the famous treatise by Descartes on the passions of the soul (1649), has its roots in the ideals of the Humanism and the Poetics of affections in Giulio Cesare Scaligero’s rhetoric.

 

Session 3

Valentina Anzani: Singer influence on characterisation: the case of Antonio Bernacchi

During the eighteenth century the production context played a major role in the creation of a new opera, which could influence the librettist and the composer in choosing the subject, the nature of the character and the moral virtues of which they were eventually carriers. In the composition process, however, it was also a customary practice to take into account the personal inclinations of the singer, especially when he was a well-known first class singer.

The composers were informed about the specific vocal skills of the stars engaged for the season, who, if not satisfied, often required changes to the score, which could be minor changes or the replacement of the whole arias, in order to be provided by music that suited them better. Given that it is in the arias that the character expresses his feelings, and it is from the arias that emerges his temper, is this temper defined only by the librettist and the composer, or also by the singer who first sang those arias?

My aim is to investigate the responsibility of the singer in defining the interiority of the characters, especially through the example of the castrato Antonio Bernacchi (1685-1756): as a first class opera singer, he sang new roles created specifically for him as well as roles created for others, for which, in most cases, the arias reserved for him were replaced or rewritten ad hoc. The analysis of the surviving arias he sang in his career illustrates how all these are based on the expression of similar affetti (regardless of the character), which corresponds to a similar musical writing. The study shows how replacing the arias or influencing their composition (and therefore the passions that pass through the character’s spirit) changes the way the character thinks and acts, demonstrating that his personality is shaped not only by dramatic, rhetorical, allegorical requirements or commission, but also by the vocal and interpretive needs of the singer.

 

Anne Desler: Between Theory and Practice:  Layers of Identity in the Early Eighteenth-Century dramma per musica

The representation of interiority appears to have been one of the main attractions of the dramma per musica for audiences long before the craze for epistolary novels of the mid- and late eighteenth century.  Large-scale soliloquies typically constitute dramaturgical key moments, and shorter monologues are dispersed throughout the action, playing an important role in patterns of contraction and expansion within acts and the delineation of the public versus the private sphere.  However, unlike the epistolary novel, the dramma per musica is the product of collaborative authorship, involving not only the librettist and composer, but also leading singers, whose artistic contribution was not necessarily limited to performance, as recent scholarship has shown.  This raises the questions as to whose sense of self we study when analysing characters in individual drammi per musica and whether it is possible to distinguish between singers’, composers’ and librettists’ identities within co-authored musico-dramatic texts.

Whilst in modern scholarship Farinelli, the most famous of the eighteenth-century castrati, is often mentioned in one breath with other contemporary virtuosi, eighteenth-century accounts of the singer are typically discourses of difference and inimitability.  One of the many aspects in which Farinelli seems to have differed from his colleagues is the extent of his contribution to the creation of operatic texts.

No other singer’s roles are equally strongly ‘branded’ with markers of his vocal style and contain equally many substitute aria texts and extensive alterations in the recitatives.  However, unlike in other singers’ roles, Farinelli’s substitute arias are hardly ever instances of ‘suitcase arias’.  On the contrary, he often replaced vastly successful arias with new or lesser-known ones even in revivals of operas in which he had sung before.  And although Farinelli often sang the same roles as other famous castrati, his versions of these roles differs substantially from theirs.  The nature of Farinelli’s adaptations of his roles for each production suggests that they constitute strategies of engaging his audience in order to communicate his carefully constructed persona.  Soliloquies served as a particularly important vehicle in this design.

This paper will examine the extent to which Farinelli’s sense of self may be extrapolated from specific operatic texts, analyse the manner in which he used the representation of interiority on the operatic stage to enact his public persona and consider how his approach to simultaneously revealing and concealing aspects of his identity aligned with contemporary conceptualisations of the self.

 

Session 4

Michael Spitzer: The Wonder of Rameau

This paper is about the representation and arousal of the emotion of wonder in Rameau’s Hyppolite et Aricie. Analytical in orientation, it draws together a range of philosophical and psychological approaches to understanding emotion in baroque opera. Post-Cartesian emotion directly problematizes the notion of interiority because the ‘passions of the soul’ straddle the boundary between mind and body. Even by Descartes’s own lights, his own theory of emotions deconstructs Cartesian dualism. Yet this is even more the case with Descartes’s definition of wonder, the first and most important emotion on his list. Wonder has both a cognitive and visual dimension, recognized most recently in Philip Fisher’s important book, Wonder, The Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences (2003). On the one hand, wonder is historically associated with the sustained novelty of visual spectacles like rainbows (unlike the transient novelty of surprise). On the other hand, novelty arouses cognitive reflection, which goes through wondrous ‘ah ha!’ or Eureka moments of cognitive breakthrough after a crisis of impasse. I will argue that in the operas of this most theoretically self-conscious of composers, the drama alternates between quasi-optical spectacle, in the tradition of operatic Merveilleux, and moments of music-theoretical breakthrough engendering cognitive wonder in the listener. I will illustrate this process with several moments in the opera.

 

Olivia Bloechl: Confessing à la française

Scenes of avowal, in which characters disclose hidden feelings or intentions, were very common in serious French librettos across the eighteenth century.  In scenes of this sort, librettists or revisers typically gave characters an introspective rhetoric that passionately exposes and, often, defines their true “self.”  While its deep roots lay in Catholic and legal forms of confession, such introspective rhetoric had long been adapted in European arts and letters, including in Lullian tragédies en musique.  Nevertheless, it was poets and composers of the Regency and after who wholeheartedly embraced what Michael Frazer calls the period’s secular “reflective regimes,” especially its sentimentalist strand.  In fact, avowal scenes proliferated in serious operas by Rameau, Dauvergne, Gluck, and Sacchini, even as the manner and significance of confessing a self on the lyrical stage changed in the last third of the century.

I consider this development with two settings of the Phaedra story produced by the Opéra, Rameau/Pellegrin’s Hippolyte et Aricie (1733) and Lemoyne/Hoffman’s Phèdre (1786).  Separated by over half a century, both operas explore Queen Phaedra’s illicit desire for her stepson, Hippolytus, and the consequences of its revelation. As in their main literary source, Racine’s Phèdre, Pellegrin and Hoffman placed Phaedra’s introspective avowal at the heart of their dramas.  Yet Hoffman’s confessional scenes for her character were longer and more passionately intensive, while Lemoyne, writing in Gluck’s wake, deployed the late-century opera orchestra’s expressionist capacity to convey a stronger sense of Phaedra’s inner world.

In both historical moments, avowal scenes depended for their effectiveness on characters’ scripted manner of reflecting in song, as much or more than on what they revealed; and in the Opéra’s heroic repertory this manner was always governed by conventions for that type of character experiencing passions in extremis. Is also depended heavily on skillful delivery by singing actors, who in creating roles like Phaedra were expected to declaim truthfully and sensitively while not violating the limits of bienséance.  How well singers negotiated that balance was debated in the press, as reviews of La Saint-Huberty’s turn in the role of Phèdre (1786) will illustrate by way of conclusion.

 

Session 5

Ellen Lockhart: Aisthesis on the Stage

The core gambit of eighteenth-century empiricism was that the ‘self’ was formed by means of a sensory education. This was the principle behind Locke’s notion of the tabula rasa; it was given a fuller and ultimately more influential treatment in Condillac’s Traité des sensations (1754), which brought a statue to life by gradually awakening its sensing organs. The Traité famously began by showing how a series of flowers, passed beneath the statue’s nose, could create the faculties of attention, memory, enjoyment, and imagination; it culminated in the statue’s first internal utterance—moi and n’est plus mois—which, I will suggest, became in subsequent decades the pre-eminent index of a consciousness of self. What is less well known is that Condillac’s thought experiment was imbricated in a performance tradition which predated it, and subsequently took up its concerns and dramatised its paradigmatic moments of self-formation. This paper will draw together a collection of music-theatrical works from the second half of the eighteenth century—operas, pantomimes and melodramas on the themes of Pygmalion and Prometheus—that drew on Condillac’s Traité in staging the sensory ‘making’ of human consciousness.

 

Estelle Joubert: Melodramatic Representations of Interiority and Autonomy in Lenardo und Blandine (1779)

First performed in Munich on 25 June 1779, Josef F. von Göz and Peter Winter’s Lenardo und Blandine (1779) boasts an unexpected distinction: the melodrama is widely known as the first graphic novel. Unusually, the work is accompanied by 160 engravings of gestures––effectively a play-by-play illustration of a startling range of emotions exhibited on stage as the narrative unfolds. Moreover, the gestures and stage directions in the libretto display medically informed descriptions of Blandine’s ever-changing psychological and physiological responses, an aesthetic that Germanist Simon Richter has argued is closely aligned with the neuroscientific discoveries of Göttingen experimental scientist Albrecht von Haller. This convergence of emotional expression with early neuroscience is further complicated by the music-aesthetic context from which Winter emerged: the so-called Gerstenberg circle, a group of composers and music theorists devoted to developing new theories of musical expression.

In this paper, I examine German melodrama’s developmental path in representations of interiority using Lenardo und Blandine as paradigmatic example. I argue that German melodrama was a reaction to Stoic conceptions of the passions in Baroque drama, and that it became an ideal arena for experimenting with musico-dramatic portrayals of the self. Drawing on contemporary writings concerning melodrama by Johann Jakob Engel, Johann Friedrich Schink and Johann Gottfried von Herder, I uncover the sensualist philosophical underpinnings of the genre. It is no coincidence, for example, that Engel refers frequently cites Diderot and Hume in his Ideen zur einer Mimik (1785-1786). Unlike Kant, the sensualist thinkers believed that individual autonomy is arrived at through the senses rather than reason. In the context of Lenardo und Blandine, too, the female protagonist’s autonomy is striking. A beautiful princess, Blandine goes against her father’s wishes and chooses a lowly gardener as lover. She initiates midnight encounters and amorous advances, ultimately leading to Lenardo’s demise. Significantly, the plot is kept to a minimum, and the focus is on Blandine’s prescribed and self-described psychological and physiological responses–representations of interiority—coupled with her autonomy.

I conclude by arguing that the sensualist tradition provides a framework for genres such as melodrama which fit histories of the eighteenth century construed as the Age of Reason rather poorly. Ultimately, acknowledging melodrama’s role in the development of interiority foregrounds sensory epistemology in forging ideals of individual autonomy during the Enlightenment.

 

Session 6

Kordula Knaus: Subjectivity and interiority in early opera buffa

Opera research so far has often argued that a new sense of subjectivity (grounded in Enlightenment thought) emerged with Mozart, in particular his last comic operas. The paper takes a closer look at an earlier period, addressing the various layers of interiority and subjectivity in mid-18th-century Italian opera, in particular with regard to the emerging new genre of opera buffa. Established in Naples at the beginning of the century, then adapted in northern Italy (particularly Venice) in the 1740s, the genre was soon performed all over Europe and started to replace opera seria in the 1760s. Notions of subjectivity and interiority prove to be quite complex in comic opera. On the one hand, opera buffa contrasts to opera seria with regard to its institutions, its function and its subjects. It is performed in smaller venues, has no representational purposes and it stages ‘everyday’ spaces and situations. On the other hand, the genre is highly standardized and does not allow for much variability in personal or subjective expression. An analysis of selected works and performances differentiates these views. It demonstrates, 1) that opera buffa’s relation to representation is ambivalent, particularly in smaller courtly residences where the genre takes over functions of opera seria, and 2) how the works themselves quickly manouver between stereotypes, individuality and self-reflection, both, in their historical development and their internal structures.

Matthew Head: Psychology, Now and Then: The Conception and Reception of Mozart’s La finta giardiniera (1775) 

Among the most persistent but problematic claims made for Mozart’s operas is that ‘we’ believe in the characters – they are ‘true to life’ — and it is the composer’s achievement that ‘we’ feel this way (not some other agency such as our understanding, or the authorship of the director and performers).  Of course, rhetoric about relevance and accessibility is stock in trade of the box-office and probably necessary to the survival of institutions that make opera their business.  (It is difficult – but not impossible – to image a flyer that invited audiences to an opera to encounter historically remote versions of Selfhood, in a ‘drama’ that works by seemingly arbitrary conventions, mediated by music that doesn’t speak transparently to their own experience of the world).   In scholarship, there is marketing on a grand scale, affirmations of the perceived reality of Mozart’s operatic fictions serving to organise teleological histories of the genre, to canonise Mozart, and to authenticate opera as a component of bourgeois culture.  The working out, and provenance, of this critical gift bestowed upon Mozart’s Da Ponte operas, and The Magic Flute, is worth tracing in more detail than I can undertake here.  I offer only a sketch, on the basis of a few landmarks of twentieth- and twenty-first century reception: Hermann Abert’s Mozart (1919-1921) – a revision of Otto Jahn’s Mozart (first published between 1855 and 1867); Brigid Brophy’s Mozart the Dramatist (1964), and Parker and Abbate’s Opera: The Last 400 Years (2012).   In a case-study of La finta giardiniera (1775), reworded around 1780 as the Singspiel Das verstellte Gärtner-Mädchen, I observe that a work closely linked to period discussions of abnormal psychology (particularly Karl Philipp Moritz’s Magazin für Erfahrungsseelenkunde (Magazine for Empirical Psychology), published 1783-93) has ironically fallen foul of more recent standards of psychology truth.  I offer a preliminary historical typology of the themes of abnormal psychology that form the explicit subject matter of the opera (some of them the anonymous librettist drew from Goldoni’s La buona figliuola).  I then explore the peculiar rapport between these themes and notions of theatricality, performance, and mimesis, a rapport that endorses opera as a context for complex notions of personhood and subjectivity (almost in the manner of a psychiatric ‘case history’).  Though inevitably running short of time by this stage, I will indicate the ways in which Mozart’s music constructs, but also mediates, ideas of interiority (a term I problematize).  Notably, however, this is not the kind of psychology, nor the kind of opera, that receives the canonising epithets of the believable, the truthful, or the plausible in twentieth-century criticism.  This discrepancy, I suggest, marks change in notions of the art work, the bourgeois Self, and the relationship between them.