Bellini's Unseen Voices

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:
Bellini's Unseen Voices

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In Daniel Auber's 1828 opera, La Muette de Portici, the pantomimes of the heroine Fenella relied on a comfortable certainty that gesture could say the same things that language could. In contrast, Italian opera of the 1820s and 1830s believed in the transparency of melody. For Fenella, sequences of repeating scales underline and reinforce the movement of her body, while Gioachino Antonio Rossini or Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti set words such as “gemito” (groan), “lagrime” (tears), or “pianto” (lament) to onomatopoeic melodic figures. The most interesting manifestation of onomatopoeia, as it connects to staging and embodiment, occurs in the operas of Vincenzo Bellini, whose operas are saturated with sigh figures: brief, highly conventional melodic patterns used to imitate the sounds of the body in pain or emotional distress. This chapter asks what happened to the operatic body between Bellini's two operas, Il pirata and I puritani: why the sighs and groans of Il pirata began to disappear, and what replaced them. It focuses on privation, on a metaphorical anorexia of the body that overtakes Bellini in I puritani.

Keywords: Vincenzo Bellini; opera; gesture; onomatopoeia; sounds; operatic body; Il pirata; I puritani; sighs; privation

Chapter.  8004 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: American Music

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