STM-Online
STM-Online vol. 11 (2008)
Johanna Ethnersson

Abstract

Music as Mimetic Representation and Performative Act:Semiramide riconosciuta and Musical Construction of Sexuality and Gender

Johanna Ethnersson

The purpose of this article has been to investigate the question of the musical construction of sexuality and gender in the opera Semiramide riconosciuta (Venice 1745), set by Johann Adolf Hasse to the drama by Pietro Metastasio. Apart from analysing the music in relation to the drama, the method has been to analyse and to interpret the music in relation to the concept of performativity. The hypothesis is that the interpretative strategies that the concept of performativity enables has some affinity to how opera seria was experienced and theorized in the early eighteenth century. The investigation has consisted of a comparative analysis between the musical appearances of the two main characters in the opera, and between the two singers performing these characters.

It seems as if Hasse, who provided the singers with vocally suitable material, musically confirmed the message of Metastasio’s drama: woman connected with passion and man connected with reason. At the two high points of the performance, when the audience most likely were attentive to what happened on stage, there seems to have been a performative manifestation of the two main characters musically. The singers did different things to the audience and the audience did different things to the singers and indirectly also to the musical constructions of the characters. In these moments Vittoria Tesi Tramontini performed as the cross-dressed character Semiramide, revealed herself as a woman and adopted the status of a character connected to passion, through a mimetic musical representation. The music functioned as a means of evoking compassion in the audience. Giovanni Carestini in the guise of Scitalce, on the other hand, was shown as a character using reason, and musically he was distanced from passion. The music in his arias affected the audience directly and independently of the situation in the drama, creating amazement and delight. According to analyses of modern film music, which display affinities to the Arcadian theorist Pier Jacobo Martello’s descriptions of the music in opera seria and to the modern theorist Erika Fischer-Lichte’s aesthetics of the performative, this was an effective means of getting an audience to accept the message of the performance.

©Johanna Ethnersson, 2008

STM-Online vol. 11 (2008)
http://musikforskning.se/stmonline/vol_11

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ISSN: 1403-5715