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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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Screening the Diva

Screening the Diva

(p.83) Chapter 5 Screening the Diva
The Arts of the Prima Donna in the Long Nineteenth Century

Mary Simonson

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores the most modern medial intervention available to the prima donnas in this book: early film. It seems astonishing to learn that early twentieth-century opera singers such as Mary Garden and Geraldine Farrar involved themselves in the silent film industry of the 1910s. What was an opera singer doing devoting time and energy to a performance format that by definition ignored her principal attribute? Simonson critiques Garden’s and Farrar’s portrayals on the silver screen of a variety of roles from Joan of Arc to Carmen, and observes a foregrounding of their bodies and exulting in physicality. Not just their screen exploits, but risks they endured while filming were written up eagerly by the press, suggesting that the prima donna became an important iconic figure in the emergence of, and discourse around, new female identities at the beginning of the new century.

Keywords:   film, silent film, Mary Garden, Geraldine Farrar, Joan of Arc, Carmen, physicality, exploits

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