Angels and Monsters: Male and Female Sopranos in the Story of Opera, 1600-1900

Overview

During its first two centuries, opera was dominated by sopranos. There were male sopranos, or castrati, whose supercharged voices (female vocal cords powered by male lungs) were capable of feats of vocalism that are hard to imagine today. And there were female sopranos, or prime donne, whose long battle for social acceptance and top billing was crowned in the early nineteenth century when the castrati disappeared from the opera stage and left them supreme.

Whether they were male...

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Overview

During its first two centuries, opera was dominated by sopranos. There were male sopranos, or castrati, whose supercharged voices (female vocal cords powered by male lungs) were capable of feats of vocalism that are hard to imagine today. And there were female sopranos, or prime donne, whose long battle for social acceptance and top billing was crowned in the early nineteenth century when the castrati disappeared from the opera stage and left them supreme.

Whether they were male or female, these singers were amazing virtuosi, perhaps the greatest singers there have ever been -- "angels." Unfortunately, some of them (and often the most famous) were also capable of behaving extremely badly, both on and off stage -- "monsters." This book tells their colorful stories.

Besides providing fascinating anecdotes about some of those who graced and disgraced the operatic stage, Richard Somerset-Ward tells the story of their greatest glory -- the singing tradition they founded and perfected, which we know as bel canto and which is still the backbone of operatic singing today. Rich in musical, social, and cultural lore, Angels and Monsters illuminates a unique and vanished tradition and will be irresistible to opera lovers everywhere.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In this entertaining and informative work, Somerset-Ward (The Story of Opera) discusses the soprano voice in opera from the genre's beginnings around 1600 through the days of Verdi and Wagner in the 19th century, with brief excursions into our own time. He focuses first on castrati, discussing both their ambivalent relationship with the Roman Catholic Church and their eventual decline, then addresses their replacements-women classed as soprano or mezzo-soprano-while touching on other singers' contributions. He details the techniques of voice teachers from Caccini to Marchesi and their effects on various pupils. Throughout, the author expertly uses contemporary quotes and portraits, fashioning a compelling narrative full of intrigues that does not neglect the scholarly apparatus needed to support his assertions. There is some overlap with Patrick Barbier's The World of the Castrati and Angus Heriot's The Castrati in Opera; Somerset-Ward acknowledges their efforts and includes more current documentation. A similar, more recent book is Geoffrey Riggs's The Assoluta Voice in Opera, 1797-1847, which covers a shorter time period and focuses on recordings of certain roles. Somerset-Ward's title is warmly recommended for all collections serving a clientele interested in opera or singing.-Barry Zaslow, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, OH Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300099683
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 4/10/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.35 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction
1 Caccini's pupils 3
2 Getting away with murder : the prima donna comes of age 19
3 Porpora's pupils 43
4 The castrato ascendancy 63
5 Apres Gluck and the time of Mozart 93
6 Prime donne assolute 119
7 The world's showcase : Paris 1800-1871 161
8 Dramatic singing : the Verdian soprano 191
9 Heroic singing : the Wagnerian soprano 225
10 Marchesi's pupils 265
Notes 293
Suggestions for further reading 307
Index 311
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