"She Was No Beauty, But-" The Careers and Public Images of Pauline Viardot, Emma Calvé, and Sibyl Sanderson Public Deposited

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  • February 26, 2019
  • Jackson, Charlotte
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Music
  • In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, female singers were at the heart of the opera scene. Prima donnas experienced more power on and off the stage as artists and as celebrities in this period than perhaps any other. They were central in negotiations with distribution of arias in operas, visits to the impresario, theater owners and composers, dressing rooms, carriages to take them to their destinations, and more. They collaborated with the composers who wrote for them, performed title roles in a significant number of operas, and were widely loved by the public. These women’s identities, however, presented perhaps a unique dichotomy. They were both a seductive siren and a powerful and financially independent career woman. They held agency, yet they were also seen as an object for consumption and pleasure. Many of these divas left a legacy of distinct and well-designed careers, as well as the memory of voices that drew an entire public to them. While it may seem, at first glance, that their long-lasting careers were a result of their voices alone, looking deeper shows us that they crafted their brand carefully. In this thesis, I explore how three nineteenth-century singers shaped their public personas and brand in terms of their interactions with the press, their colleagues, and their audience through career moves and publicly-released images. I seek to illustrate that there were numerous factors beyond the diva’s voice that contributed to the trajectory of her career, many of which were shaped by a diva’s own agency. I have chosen, as my case studies, three singers whose careers centered around Paris in particular: Pauline Viardot, Sibyl Sanderson, and Emma Calvé. While each singer had a unique career that drew attention to different parts of their identities as women and singers, all three needed to cope with the misogyny inherent in nineteenth-century patriarchy. For that reason, each singer developed her own strategies around a system that was challenging both in professional and personal ways.
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  • In Copyright
  • Funding: None
  • Fauser, Annegret
  • Bachelor of Arts
Honors level
  • Honors
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • 61 p.

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