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.
Linda Hutcheon and Michael Hutcheon
The singing and acting performer in staged opera has and also performs a body that is both a biological entity and an ideological construct: its race, sex, physique, and age are all given meaning by directors—and audiences. Within the contexts of feminist, queer, and disability studies, this chapter reads the “marked” body of the protagonist of David Alden’s 2008 production of Gaetano Donizetti’s 1835 Lucia di Lammermoor as the literal embodiment of the excruciating vulnerability of Lucia as subject through the medium of her youthfulness and her mixed race: a Down syndrome child sexually abused by her brother on stage. Just as the opera’s use of coloratura is a marked musical gesture of madness in dramaturgical terms for the “voice in performance,” so the specifically marked corporeal body of Lucia was crucial to this production’s dramatic power, as well as the ethical and political issues it raised.
This chapter proposes that in the grand opera of the nineteenth century, sexuality and dis/ability combine with opera’s musical, literary, and dramatic elements, enabling experiences of the sublime within the context of human embodiment. Operatic representation of disability, including madness and lovesickness, enables audiences to both experience and contemplate uncontrollable and overwhelming forces, the essence of Arthur Schopenhauer’s conception of sublimity. The rise of these representations in nineteenth-century opera coincides with increasingly influential concepts of normative bodies, bodily controllability, and marginalization of bodily excess and disability. Opera’s textual, musical, sung, and acted representations of embodied excess, disability, and physical extremity enhance audiences’ immersive witnessing of and physical empathy with those representations.