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Opera Acts
Singers and Performance in the Late Nineteenth Century


Part of Cambridge Studies in Opera

  • Date Published: February 2019
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108723343

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About the Authors
  • Opera Acts explores a wealth of new historical material about singers in the late nineteenth century and challenges the idea that this was a period of decline for the opera singer. In detailed case studies of four figures - the late Verdi baritone Victor Maurel; Bizet's first Carmen, Célestine Galli-Marié; Massenet's muse of the 1880s and 1890s, Sibyl Sanderson; and the early Wagner star Jean de Reszke - Karen Henson argues that singers in the late nineteenth century continued to be important, but in ways that were not conventionally 'vocal'. Instead they enjoyed a freedom and creativity based on their ability to express text, act and communicate physically, and exploit the era's media. By these and other means, singers played a crucial role in the creation of opera up to the end of the nineteenth century.

    • Uncovers new historical material about opera singers in the late nineteenth century
    • Argues for a new perspective on the role of the singer in the late nineteenth century, making an important new historical argument
    • Explores the neglected subject of acting and physicality in opera, approaching opera as a performed art and a form of theater as well as a musical phenomenon
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Karen Henson lovingly summons the voices of four singers of the fin de siècle, chronicling the moment when the opera star was no longer defined by beautiful singing alone. Spiraling out from Paris to aesthetics and performance practice in both Verdi and Wagner, Henson uncovers the roots of our current obsession with dramatic intensity, cinematic realism, and photogenic celebrity on the operatic stage.' Mary Ann Smart, University of California, Berkeley

    'Karen Henson upsets conventional wisdom to argue for the continuing influence of singers on operatic creation in the late nineteenth century. Weaving together journalism, photography, theater, and fashion, she shows that the physicality of performers as much as their voices shaped works by Verdi, Bizet, Massenet, and Wagner. This is a virtuosic account of opera's rich cultural fabric - beautifully written, always engaging.' Steven Huebner, McGill University, Montréal

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    Product details

    • Date Published: February 2019
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108723343
    • dimensions: 245 x 189 x 15 mm
    • weight: 0.54kg
    • contains: 17 b/w illus. 44 music examples
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: on not singing and singing physiognomically
    1. Verdi, Victor Maurel, and the operatic interpreter
    2. Real mezzo: Célestine Galli-Marié as Carmen
    3. Photographic diva: Massenet, Sibyl Sanderson, and the soprano as spectacle
    4. Jean de Reszke, the 'problem' of the tenor, and early international Wagner performance
    Supporting cast.

  • Author

    Karen Henson, City University of New York
    Karen Henson is Associate Professor at the Frost School of Music, University of Miami. Her research focuses on nineteenth-century opera, singers and opera performance, and opera and technology. She trained at the University of Oxford and in Paris, and her work has been supported by fellowships and awards from The British Academy, the Stanford Humanities Center, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. She has been a regular guest speaker for the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, and the BBC.

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