The Ambiguity of Baroque Enchantment: Operatic Mise en Abyme

Part of the Analecta Husserliana book series (ANHU, volume 63)


When Azucena, in Act II of II Trovatore, sings the celebrated “Stride la vampa,” that improbable tale of her mother’s death at the stake and how, in revenge, she had thrown the wrong child into the fire, her onstage listeners, the gypsy chorus, echoing or suggesting our own response, remarks, “Mesta è la tua canzon!” — “your song is sad.” The gypsy’s narrative has apparently not unfolded simply in the conventional language of the operatic medium, that is, in verbal discourse rendered musically, but, within the context of the operatic fiction, Azucena’s account has been offered and received explicitly as sung narrative. In the already remote fictional world of Verdi’s melodrama, Azucena’s sad tale has been presented as music, represented by singer and actress as performance, as art; her song participates in and contributes to the shaping of what Virgil Thomson has referred to as the larger life that music gives to words.1


Operatic Stage Operatic Drama Verbal Discourse Magical Power Operatic Narrative 
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  1. 1.
    Music with Words: A Composer’s View (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), p. 2.Google Scholar
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    Edward T. Cone, “The World of Opera and Its Inhabitants,” in Music: A View from Delft, ed. R. P. Morgan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), pp. 125–138. Cone’s essay has served as the point of departure for an exchange of ideas in the Cambridge Opera Journal. See especially the article by Peter Kivy (Vol. 3, No. I, March, 1991), and those by David Rosen and Ellen Rosand (Vol. 4, No. 1, March, 1992 ).Google Scholar
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    Jean Starobinski, “Opera and Enchantresses,” in Opera Through Other Eyes ( Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994 ), pp. 19–23.Google Scholar
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    See Dominique Fernandez, Le Banquet des anges: l’Europe baroque de Rome à Prague ( Paris: Plon, 1984 ), pp. 23–27.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in Patrick Barbier, Histoire des castrats (Paris: Grasset, 1989), p. 97. My translation. The original French text follows: Il serait difficile de donner une idée juste du degré de perfection auquel ce chanteur a porté son art. Le charme et l’amour qui peuvent remplir l’idée d’une voix angélique et qui font le caractère de la sienne, joints à la plus grande exécution, à une facilité et à une précision surprenantes, répandent sur les sens et sur le coeur un enchantement dont les êtres les moins sensibles à la musique auraient de la peine à se garantir. Aussi peut-on dire qu’il n’y a jamais eu de messe moins entendue que celle-là, quoiqu’il régnât le plus profond silence dans la chapelle.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

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