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The Arts of the Prima Donna in the Long Nineteenth Century$
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Rachel Cowgill and Hilary Poriss

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780195365870

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195365870.001.0001

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“Attitudes with a Shawl”

“Attitudes with a Shawl”

Performance, Femininity, and Spectatorship at the Italian Opera in Early Nineteenth-Century London

(p.217) Chapter 11 “Attitudes with a Shawl”
The Arts of the Prima Donna in the Long Nineteenth Century

Rachel Cowgill

Oxford University Press

The focus of this chapter is the internationally celebrated bravura soprano Angelica Catalani, who, the chapter argues, reveals the ambiguities of the prima donna as a cultural figure in early nineteenth-century London. Catalani’s exhibitions of “attitudes with a Shawl” were one of the means by which she asserted a claim to be taken seriously as a creative artist; but the heated exchange they provoked in the press suggests that for the masculine gaze they constituted a transgressive mix of aesthetic, voyeuristic, and sensual pleasures. By contrast, for aristocratic women in the audience, Catalani’s “attitudes” modeled an idealized patrician femininity. Tracing the genealogy of Catalani’s “attitudes,” the chapter explores tensions and contradictions in early nineteenth-century English views of the prima donna, the role of operatic performance in negotiating femininities, and the potency of the figures of prostitute/courtesan and social-climber in regulating female performance whether on stage or in the opera box.

Keywords:   Angelica Catalani, attitudes, shawl, gaze, femininities, prostitute, courtesan, social-climber

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