This essay explores the artistry of the nineteenth-century Italian singer Giuditta Pasta within the broad context of an ‘artwork’ (Goehr) and ideas of ‘presence’ (Gumbrecht). Pasta was the acknowledged diva del mondo during the 1820s, famed not only for an extraordinary if flawed voice, but also for the physicality of her performance modes. Her innovative practices contributed to the development and reconceptualisation of opera’s dramatic potential on the early Romantic stage. Making her reputation in roles such as Medea (Mayr) and Semiramide (Rossini), Pasta later inspired the composition of three of the most striking operatic heroines of the period: Amina in La sonnambula (Bellini) and the title-roles of Norma (again Bellini) and Anna Bolena (Donizetti). Focusing on her performance as Norma, I consider a polemical debate in 1835 in the Italian periodicals Il Figaro and Il corriere delle dame that illuminates aspects of Pasta’s gestural style in relation to those of her younger colleague and rival, Maria Malibran, and ultimately raises questions about the ‘authenticity’ of performance in the emerging economy of the operatic marketplace.
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