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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam

Women, Opera and the Public Stage in Eighteenth-Century Venice

Alternative title: Kvinner, opera og den offentlige scenen i Venezia på 1700-tallet

Awarded: NOK 11.6 mill.

WoVen explores women’s participation in 18th-century European operatic culture. The 18th c. was a time of change for women across Europe. Women gained greater access to universities and to many different professions. Questions about their education and role in society gained a central place in public discourse. The ‘women question’ was discussed within academies, universities and salons, as in novels and magazines. Venice, with its history of cultural discourse by and about women, was a hub for these debates and an important operatic centre. Through its public theatres, these debates reached a wider audience. The Italian opera produced in Venice spread throughout Europe, from Madrid to St. Petersburg, from Dresden to Copenhagen and Oslo, contributing to the formation of cultural identities in Europe in the 18th century. What was the place of women in this European operatic culture? What was their role in constructing models for women in the 18th century? Did opera, and the opportunities for autonomy and social mobility, advance the process of women’s emancipation? WoVen explores these questions through the study of repertories, staging and ornamentation practices of female singers. We explore how the voice and the body were used to stage gender, analyse celebrity culture and the mediating role of the star singer in the reception of the images of femininity staged in opera. We begin to reconstruct the (largely female) audiences of opera in Venice and examine the relationship between opera going practices and the greater visibility acquired by women in Venetian culture and society. We use trans-disciplinary methodologies, from historical and musical analyses, to those developed within the fields of performance, gender and celebrity studies. These offer new ways to understand and stage 18th century opera today. WoVen brings together an international team of specialists and collaborates with scholars from the University of 'Ca Foscari' and other Venetian institutions.

The 18th century was a time of change for women across Europe. Women gained greater access to education, academic positions and professions, and 'the woman question' gained a central place in public discourse. Venice was a major hub of these debates, and its many public theatres reached yet a wider audience. Thanks to the cosmopolitan character of Venice and its operatic repertoire, experienced by foreign visitors and exported throughout Europe, questions of women’s role in society became widely discussed across Enlightenment Europe. Italian opera produced in Venice thus epitomised the transnational, and was an important instrument of shaping cultural and gender identities in the 18th century. The WoVen project examines the contribution of women to opera and to the construction of female representations in the critical discourse about women in Venice in the 18th century in its broader European context. An interdisciplinary research team supported by national and international specialists and relevant Venetian institutions will study a number of selected case studies that allow us to relate and analyse a number of variables within the scope of 4 working groups (WPs), which draw on shared sources that facilitate the exchange and use of results. WoVen explores literary and dramatic texts, staging, singers’ acting and ornamentation practices, analysing the important role of mediation of the 'star' singer in the reception of staged women and opera as a whole. We initiate the reconstruction of female opera audiences in Venice and explore possible relations between opera-going and the increased visibility of women in Venetian culture and society. As the performance act had a fundamental role in the construction of meaning on the stage, we explore how gesture and the body were used as a code in the 18th century to stage gender. The dependence and fluidity of gendered meanings to the act of performance offers new ways to understand and stage 18th-century opera today.

Funding scheme:

FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam