Cowgill, Rachel (2012) 'Attitudes with a Shawl': Femininity, Performance, and Spectatorship at the Italian Opera in early nineteenth-century London. In: The Arts of the Prima Donna in the Long Nineteenth Century. Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 217-251. ISBN 9780195365870

Cowgill’s essay combines musicology with feminist, art and theatre history to show how the gendered dynamics of opera spectatorship in London c1789-1814 both reflected and contributed to significant changes in the construction, performance and reception of aristocratic femininity during this period of general cultural crisis. At its heart is the first extended treatment of the internationally celebrated soprano.

Angelica Catalani, based on an exhaustive study of newspapers, periodicals, and other textual, archival and musical sources dating from Catalani’s English career; it also includes reproductions of most of the known portraits of Catalani, seen together here for the first time. Beyond musicology Cowgill’s contribution has attracted attention from historians of femininities, aristocracy, celebrity, and the ‘beau monde’.

As the introduction to the volume makes clear, this is the first collection of work on prima donnas to relinquish a focus on the narrative construction of women in opera in favour of the cultural-historical study of the singers themselves – analysing their changing skills and attributes, the myths and discourses surrounding them, and their representation in the visual, dramatic and literary arts. International contributions were invited from a wide range of disciplines, drawing on a mix of methodologies to address the themes of promotion and image-making, fantasy and representation, and cultures of celebrity. Cowgill and Poriss were equal partners in the conception and development of the project, for which Cowgill obtained WUN funding. They jointly edited all contributions and co-authored the extended introduction, which contextualises the book within the development of feminist musicology, gender studies in opera, and the emergence of interdisciplinary celebrity studies. The proposal and manuscript were extensively peer-reviewed and publication was supported by the American Musicological Society’s Dragan Plamenac endowment. The volume has been described as ‘a unique contribution to the literature’ (Pitts) that ‘will guide thinking for many years’ (Gossett).

Add to AnyAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to LinkedinAdd to PinterestAdd to Email