Chapter

In Praise of Overstatement

Mary Ann Smart

in Mimomania

Published by University of California Press

Published in print March 2004 | ISBN: 9780520239951
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520939875 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520239951.003.0001
In Praise of Overstatement

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When Friedrich Nietzsche turned against Richard Wagner, one of his complaints was that Wagner was an incorrigible “man of the theater,” “the most enthusiastic mimomaniac” who ever existed. With this, Nietzsche was pointing (among other things) to Wagner's continuing attachment to an earlier model of gesture and stage movement, to the composer's affection for extended pantomime scenes and to his frequent reliance on small-scale coordination between music and gesture, both of which betray a hidden debt to the aesthetics of melodrama. One surprising result of retracing nineteenth-century operatic history in relation to gesture and gestural music is to unsettle the traditional opposition between Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi, and to highlight the debt to French drama and to grand opera shared by these supposed antipodes of nineteenth-century operatic style. The bodies animated and transformed by the kinds of musical effects discussed here do not only belong to women; “mimomania” can confer authority equally on male and female characters. The appeal of this inquiry into opera's bodies is tightly entwined with the representation of gender.

Keywords: Friedrich Nietzsche; Richard Wagner; pantomime; miromania; gesture; stage movement; opera; gestural music; Giuseppe Verdi; gender

Chapter.  9476 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: American Music

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