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The Emotional Power of MusicMultidisciplinary perspectives on musical arousal, expression, and social control$
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Tom Cochrane, Bernardino Fantini, and Klaus R. Scherer

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199654888

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199654888.001.0001

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Gender ambivalence and the expression of passions in the performances of early Roman cantatas by castrati and female singers

Gender ambivalence and the expression of passions in the performances of early Roman cantatas by castrati and female singers

Chapter:
(p.84) (p.85) Chapter 7Gender ambivalence and the expression of passions in the performances of early Roman cantatas by castrati and female singers
Source:
The Emotional Power of Music
Author(s):

Christine Jeanneret

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199654888.003.0007

Solo singing is associated with the expression of passions. During the first half of the 17th century, Rome saw an unparalleled production of cantatas, performed for exclusive audiences. This article focuses on the ambivalent play on gender and eroticism, when cantatas were sung by women as well as castrati, both perceived as highly erotic and also at times, threatening. A juxtaposition of contemporary testimonies of these performances with the medical theory of the humors shows that both are based on the idea of a perfect male body, a less perfect and womanish body of the castrato, and an even worse female body. Poems were written mostly by men and reflect the conventional tropes of the male gaze: the lover oscillates between hot and cold; he is consumed by the fire of passion and frozen by the unwavering and icy cruelty of his beloved. While we rightly read such changes of temperature as standardized extravagances of poetics, they are also deeply rooted in Early Modern scientific theories of the gendered body. Thus, the performance of cantatas toys with an ambivalent game of erotic expression of the affects, where the audience does not want to expose women publicly and yet wants to see them singing; where a woman might embody a male lover singing his lovesickness, and a castrato might embody a wretched female lamenting her fate. Performance was one part of sophisticated entertainments along with readings or improvisation of poetry, discourses on love, games of eloquence, and music.

Keywords:   Cantatas, Rome, 17th century, Performance, Humoralism, Passions, Eloquence, Castrati, Female Singers, Gender studies

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