Europe

Talking About Virtue: Paisiello's 'Nina,' Paër's 'Agnese,' and the Sentimental Ethos

This essay will examine how sentimentality and its valorization of virtue spread through one particular intersection of opera and literature; that is, the seduced maiden narrative is enacted in these operas, once as a comedy of sorts, once as a tragedy. Giovanni Paisiello's "Nina" (1789) was clearly influenced by the works of Samuel Richardson and Laurence Sterne, while Fernando Paër's "Agnese" (1809) is a direct adaptation of Amelia Opie's popular novella "The Father and Daughter" (1801). Furthermore, both of the operas spin in and out of ideological orbit with Richardson's novel Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded (1740-41), which in turn was rewritten by the Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni in his dramatic adaptation Le Pamela Nubile (1753), the Irish playwright Isaac Bickerstaffe as the comic opera The Maid of the Mill (1765), and which then was later adapted and transformed by François de Neufchâteau into the opera Paméla (1793). And certainly we can detect sentimental familial concerns in Denis Diderot's dramas, particularly "Le Fils Naturel ou les épreuves de la vertu" ("The Natural Son; or, The Trials of Virtue," 1757). What I hope to suggest is that music and literature have collaborated in constructing a few fairly basic cultural scripts (domestic, familial, painful, and cathartic: recall Oedipus or Demeter/Persephone) that are then retold endlessly, continually readjusting the particulars to accommodate changing social and political conditions. Sentimentality as a value system, a potent ideology, almost a secularization of religion was spread throughout eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century European culture not simply through novels and dramas, but also by being performed in opera houses from London to Rome and Naples.
May 2005

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Scott Repatriated?: La Dame blanche Crosses the Channel

Scotland, close enough to visit, far enough to seem untamed and mysterious, enthralled nineteenth-century composers. Fascination fixated on Sir Walter Scott, whose works spawned numerous foreign operas. When these musical mutations migrated across the channel, however, they often collided with Britain's vision of her 'national' author. This is especially true with Boieldieu's La Dame blanche (1825). The opera succeeded in continental Europe, but two separate London productions failed. What stymied this metamorphosis? As I argue, the conflict between Londoners' nationalistic possessiveness of Scott and Scottish melodies on the one hand, yet their uneasiness with the novels on which the opera was based and its complex score on the other, placed these adaptations at a kind of cultural impasse. Ultimately, the layers of meaning Scott's works had accrued in England made the White Lady one citizen the English could not repatriate.
May 2005

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Introduction: Obi, Aldridge and Abolition

The pantomime and melodrama versions of Obi, or Three-finger'd Jack played an important role in abolition debates and in the career of Ira Aldridge, the first African-American actor of international stature. This Praxis volume includes essays by preeminent scholars of English Romanticism, theater, and music history on the evolution, performance history, and social and cultural impact of the Obi plays, as well as illustrations and modern video reproductions of scenes from both the pantomime and melodrama versions. This volume also contains the complete text of the melodrama version of Obi.
August 2002

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Gigante, "Introduction"

Romanticism may be associated with gusto, but it has hardly been recognizedat least within literary circlesas the period that saw the invention of the restaurant and a unique, comic-philosophical genre of writing about food. But in fact Romanticism was coterminous with, and in many ways emblematic of, the culture of sophistication and social positioning we associate with modern gastronomy. This essay appears in _Romantic Gastronomies_, a volume of _Romantic Circles Praxis Series_, prepared exclusively for Romantic Circles (http://www.rc.umd.edu/), University of Maryland.

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Gender, Environment, and Imperialism in William Blake's Visions of the Daughters of Albion

This essay examines Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793) in light of William Blake's poetic critique of contemporary imperialism. Its argument turns on the contention that Blake's protagonist, Oothoon, represents in Visions both an enslaved woman and the expropriated natural landscapes of the New World. Thus, Oothoon's brutal rape at the hands of the slave-master Bromion is understood to signify a simultaneous figural rape of her environmental aspect. Analyzing the major critical implications of this double-edged violence, the essay investigates Vision's implicit thesis (based in part on Blake's poetic response to John Gabriel Stedman's contemporary writings) that the colonization of indigenous peoples and the exploitation of indigenous homelands were ideologically interrelated aspects of eighteenth-century imperialism. By drawing upon insights garnered from such fields of inquiry as ecofeminism, postcolonial theory, and the history of science, the essay also considers the theoretical and practical assumptions informing Oothoon's activist response to her doubly-colonized condition.
November 2001

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