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Grant number like: FT-58287-10

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Melina Esse
University of Rochester (Rochester, NY 14627-0001)

Summer Stipends
Research Programs

$6,000 (approved)
$6,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
5/1/2010 – 9/30/2010

Saffo's Lyre: Improvisation and Neoclassicism in Italian Opera

The emergence of an unadorned, dramatic singing style in Italian opera of the mid 1800s is often credited to increasing composerly control over singers "taste for improvised ornament" as a triumph of the written text over an oral culture of ephemeral sensation. My project, in contrast, suggests that this style may have been inspired by operatic encounters with the improvvisatrice, a female improviser of (often chanted or sung) poetry. Giovanni Pacini's Saffo, for instance, embodies an ideal of performance in which creation and execution are fused together in a moment of divine inspiration. Now overshadowed by caricatures of capricious divas, the improvvisatrice challenges traditional histories of opera because she represents a uniquely Italian alloy of Romantic and neoclassical aesthetics.