Women in American Operas of the 1950s
Title Details

256 Pages

22.8 x 15.2 cm

7 illus., 22 musical examples

Series: Eastman Studies in Music

Series Vol. Number: 187

Imprint: University of Rochester Press

Women in American Operas of the 1950s

Undoing Gendered Archetypes

by Monica A. Hershberger

  • Description
  • Contents
  • Author
The first feminist analysis of some of the most performed works in the American-opera canon, emphasizing the voices and perspectives of the sopranos who brought these operas to life.

In the 1950s, composers and librettists in the United States were busy seeking to create an opera repertory that would be deeply responsive to American culture and American concerns. They did not break free, however, of the age-old paradigm so typically expressed in European opera: that is, of women as either saintly and pure or sexually corrupt, with no middle ground. As a result, in American opera of the 1950s, women risked becoming once again opera's inevitable victims.

Yet the sopranos who were tasked with portraying these paragons of virtue and their opposites did not always take them as their composers and librettists made them. Sometimes they rewrote, through their performances, the roles they had been assigned. Sometimes they used their lived experiences to invest greater authenticity in the roles.

With chapters on The Tender Land, Susannah, The Ballad of Baby Doe, and Lizzie Borden, this book analyzes some of the most performed yet understudied works in the American-opera canon. It acknowledges Catherine Clément's famous description of opera as "the undoing of women," while at the same time illuminating how singers like Beverly Sills and Phyllis Curtin worked to resist such undoing, years before the official resurgence of the American feminist movement. In short, they ended up helping to dismantle powerful gendered stereotypes that had often reigned unquestioned in opera houses until then.
Acknowledgements
Introduction
Chapter 1 American Opera at Midcentury
Chapter 2 A Conniving Gold Digger: Elizabeth "Baby Doe" Tabor
Chapter 3 A "Really Vicious Monster": Lizzie Andrew Borden
Chapter 4 A Chaste White Woman: Laurie Moss
Chapter 5 A Dangerous Jezebel: Susannah Polk
Epilogue "The World So Wide": Beyond the Virgin or the Whore in the Twenty-First Century
Bibliography
Index

MONICA A. HERSHBERGER is Assistant Professor of Music at SUNY Geneseo.

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9781648250613

March 2023

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Title Details

256 Pages

2.28 x 1.52 cm

7 illus., 22 musical examples

Series: Eastman Studies in Music

Series Vol. Number: 187

Imprint: University of Rochester Press