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Session 4-43 (AMS-CUMS-LYRICA)
Staging The Operatic "Voice"

Caryl Clark (University of Toronto at Scarborough), Organizer
Allan Hepburn (Department of English, McGill University), Chair and Moderator
Carolyn Abbate (Princeton University), Respondent
Philip Brett (University of California, Riverside), Respondent

 

Teaching the Voice
Caryl Clark (University of Toronto at Scarborough)

"Heed my sighs, respond to me": The Voice and its Provocations
Heather Hadlock (Stanford University)

Disembodying the Voice
Linda Hutcheon (English and Comparative Literature, University of Toronto), Michael Hutcheon (Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto)

Performing the Voice
David Levin (Germanic Studies, Cinema/Media Studies, The University of Chicago)

"Voice" in opera is a complex and provocative topic and one that invites many avenues of exploration. Although the human voice and its various modes and registers of communication mark the beginning point of our investigation, issues of the physicality of the voice, the location of its authority, the mind/body split, singer/character dichotomy, vocal veracity and duplicity, and the ability of the singing voice to speak the unspeakable all come to the fore in this joint session. Each of the four papers addresses particular operatic works in an attempt to raise some broader points about the multiplicity of "voice" in the operatic context. Multimedia excerpts of performances will address further aspects of "staging of voice." The collaborative nature of the operatic art demands interdisciplinary methodologies if the analyses are to be dynamic, contextual, and nuanced. "Staging the Operatic 'Voice'" will engage in multiple vocality.
In "Teaching the Voice" Caryl Clark examines the staging of desire within the self-conscious representation of the vocal lesson in opera. Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia (1816) and an earlier operatic setting of Beaumarchais's play by Paisiello (1782) offer complementary approaches, as does Haydn's comic intermezzo La canterina (1766) based on the third act intermezzo in Piccinni's L'Origille (1760). With their intertextual links, these scenes highlight the expression of forbidden desire in opera buffa as they self-reflexively stage the irony of instructing a professional singer in the art of singing. Less vocal instruction than a site for the display of infatuation, ritualistic courtship, and diva worship, the voice lesson is rich in cultural commentary. Enacted in a private, domestic setting around a keyboard in the presence of an instructor/suitor and a guardian, the voice lesson opens up multiple interpretive levels. With its objectification of the voice and body through virtuosic display, it idealizes the young unmarried female while acknowledging the fearful power of her voice, it plays on the erotics of dominance and submission in the teacher/student relationship, and it revels in the complexity of voice embedded within hidden desires, disguise, relationship, performance and audition. The singer 's instruction and her song permit different levels of participation and hearing by on-stage singers/auditors and members of an audience.
Heather Hadlock considers Romeo's prayer and his lament over Juliet's tomb, in Zingarelli's Giulietta e Romeo (1796), an "Orphic moment" in opera: a self-reflexive scene of vocal performance that stages the power of the singing voice itself. Romeo, originally sung by the celebrated castrato Crescentini, casts his voice outward to beg for a response from emptiness: "Lofty heaven, hear my prayer...," "Beloved, hear my sighs, console me." The singer's voice, in this case, was also heard as an authorial voice, for these arias were said to have been composed by Crescentini himself, enhancing the Orphic authenticity of his utterances. Juliet's apparent resurrection is a spectacular reward for the hero's grief, but the answer that Romeo's voice receives within the plot is only one of many responses it provoked from audiences in the generation after Zingarelli's and Crescentini's deaths. Romeo's arias, particularly the lament "Ombra adorata," became hallowed legacies that also spoke eloquently to the emerging Romantic sensibility, with its enthusiasm for mystical androgynous voices and dialogues with supernatural realms. As the most famous and enduring of the roles written for castrati and kept in the repertoire by female singers, "Romeo" inspired complex erotic responses from men and women in his audiences. His androgynous voice and appearance allowed listeners of either sex to identify simultaneously with both lamenting lover and longed-for beloved; they imagined themselves as subject and object of Romeo's utterances. As the years passed and styles changed, Romeo's voice inspired more and more powerfully nostalgic meditations on the lost voices and lost elegance of Zingarelli's era. His arias could be revived, but never perfectly; his song evoked desire, appreciation, and melancholia in equal measure.
Carolyn Abbate's argument, in "Debussy's Phantom Sounds" (COJ 1998) about the disembodied operatic voice as a master voice provides the starting point for Linda Hutcheon and Michael Hutcheon, whose "Disembodying the Voice" is a study of the non-musical means of dramatizing the "otherworldly" in opera. The long western tradition of linking the visual to the real and the rational has meant that the invisible is allowed to partake of the unreal and the spiritual. Indeed the paradigmatic invisible voice is the divine voice. In modern opera, the divine seems to require more than invisibility to gain that requisite authority, however: witness Britten's use of the countertenor voice to further mark the Voice of Apollo in Death in Venice or Schoenberg's use of the speaking rather than singing voice for his Voice from the Burning Bush in Moses und Aron. The invisible is associated not only with the divine but with the primitive terrors of the dark and unseeing, with what Freud called the uncanny both in its terrifying mode (e.g., the speaking Voice of Samiel in the first part of the Wolf's Glen scene in Weber's Der Freischütz) and in its legendary possibilities (e.g., the, again, speaking voice of Paul Bunyan in Britten's opera about the spirit of America). The uncanny and the authority of the divine come together most obviously in Wagner's Parsifal as the unseen dying Titurel exhorts his son to unveil the Holy Grail. The dead too possess this double power in Mozart's Don Giovanni where, in an example of what we will argue to be operatic prosopopeia, the voice of the dead Commendatore is projected onto his funerary monument. The dead, like the dying, inhabit a different existential realm than the audience and thus offer a real challenge for opera. To create a sense of the otherworldly, a sense of uncanny unease combined with quasi-divine moral authority, opera has often chosen to represent the unrepresentable through the disembodied voice.
In "Performing the Voice," David Levin examines the conjunction of voice and mise-en-scène in opera. Beyond the question of what or whose voice we hear in opera (an unsung voice? an angel's cry? a voice imparting "meaning" or "presence"?), the paper considers the particular exigencies of the staged voice, the voice in and the voice(s) of mise-en-scène. How might we account for the relationship between the inflection of a particular work (the work of mise-en-scène) and the disposition of voices within it? Thus, rather than "whose voice(s) do we hear on stage?" this paper asks: "whose voice(s) do we hear in a staging?" And how might we describe the theoretical implications of this latter question? What is the relationship between the voice(s) of mise-en-scène and the contested status of the voice in contemporary (philosophical, musicological) accounts of opera?

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