This article explores how food and drink in opera convey meaning, define relationships, trigger psychophysical reactions, and denote dramatis and singers’ personae. It proposes a basic theoretical foundation of “operatic gastromusicology” by outlining five primary functions of food in opera: social, intimate, denotative, medicinal, and dietary. These five functions are exemplified through the analysis of gastronomic signs in Verdi’s Traviata. The opera and its performance history illustrate how the production of this opera reflects the changing culture of food and the body. Luchino Visconti’s production in Milan’s La Scala in 1955, with Maria Callas as the consumptive protagonist, was in this respect a watershed in the history of opera. The singer’s rapid and prodigious weight loss prior to this performance triggered an epochal shift in opera culture toward an unprecedented conflation of the dramatis and singer’s persona.
Helen M. Greenwald
This introduction to The Oxford Handbook of Opera provides a summary to the main themes of the volume: opera as a genre, the balance of words and music, performance history, cultural history, transmission and reception, and contemporary opera. The themes are discussed as questions: what is opera? How does the fluidity of the art form play out in productions and in the physical reproductions of the scores and libretti? How does a creator of opera balance the words, the music, and the stagecraft? Why do Italians and Italian operas still dominate the conversation? The introduction lays out the topics of the fifty essays contained in this volume, capturing the highly charged dynamic between opera and its audience.