“The Finest Voice of the Century”<sup>1</sup>

Sophie Fuller

in The Arts of the Prima Donna in the Long Nineteenth Century

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780195365870
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199932054 | DOI:
“The Finest Voice of the Century”1

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This chapter uses the British contralto Dame Clara Butt as a case study through which to critique notions of celebrity, as well as definitions of the prima donna. Drawing attention to venues in which opera was heard away from the opera house and other “stages” on which operatically trained female singers appeared—principally the concert, music festival, society salon, and drawing-room soirée—the chapter examines the claims that such women who performed outside the theater might have had to the status of prima donna. This chapter evokes the centrality of vocal performance in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain, a culture in which the genres of ballad, cantata, and oratorio were prized as highly as opera, and female singers’ aspirations to public acclaim and a professional career on the lyric stage were fraught with ideological constraints.

Keywords: Clara Butt; celebrity; definitions; concert; salon; music festival; drawing-room soirée; stage; Victorian; Edwardian; cantata; oratorio; career; ideological constraints

Chapter.  9399 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Opera

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