Uneasy Bodies

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:
Uneasy Bodies

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This chapter begins with Giacomo Meyerbeer's Robert le diable (1831) because a single aria from that opera exerted a powerful magnetism for Giuseppe Verdi. It looks at the conjunction between melodic climax and kneeling gesture in Verdi's career. One context for Verdi's kneeling scenes can be found in Enrico delle Sedie's 1885 treatise on operatic acting, the Estetica del canto e dell'arte melodrammatica. Given the kneeling gesture's roots in the lexicon of mélodrame, it is hardly surprising that a very similar pose appears in Verdi's own grand opera—although the scene for a kneeling soprano in Don Carlos (1867) is far less static and less semiotically transparent than the stock situations of mélodrame. Verdi's near-erasure of pulse and emphasis on consummation in the afterlife in both the Don Carlos and Aida (1871) duets leave behind early nineteenth-century aesthetics of sensibility, to move both toward a more “transcendent” musical style and toward a dramatic mode in which the body (and especially the female body) is more symbolic than concrete.

Keywords: Giacomo Meyerbeer; Robert le diable; aria; opera; Giuseppe Verdi; kneeling; melodic climax; gesture; Don Carlos; Aida

Chapter.  7138 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: American Music

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