Sign Up
Free Event

“Duchess Anna Amalia of Weimar (1739–1807) as Musikkennerin: Uncovering Feminine Enlightenment Musical Practices” (Kimary Fick, Oregon State University)

At the turn of the eighteenth century and close of the Age of Enlightenment, an aging North German duchess reflected on the power of the arts, her contributions to humanity, and a means to guide a perceived sophistic society towards its moral purpose. Fragmented, yet recurring sentiments on taste and culture resonate in the little examined personal papers of Duchess Anna Amalia of Weimar (1739-1807), in which she wrote:

Many decorate their heads with beautiful things…[with] arbitrariness, [they] will reason and criticize art, science, and literature…seek[ing] to make [criticisms] valid from one’s pleasures. (Anna Amalia, D-WR1 HAA VIII 150a, 56r.)

The taste of the “ideal” enlightened woman was often judged by her sensitive expression of songs at the keyboard, while the status of a Kenner (connoisseur) was reserved for the all-knowing and rational man. The purpose of this paper is to dispel the pervasive narrative in Enlightenment criticism that presents this false dichotomy, limiting the view of eighteenth-century women as purely emotional bodies and restricting them to the lower status of mere music lovers. The Duchess’s extant manuscripts provide insight into how complex Enlightenment concepts such as “taste” and “culture” were disseminated to the public and, most importantly, how women understood and engaged with this philosophy. My analysis of these now-forgotten manuscripts documents musical performing practices that were critical in forming female identity in the eighteenth century. Duchess Anna Amalia’s writings provide a view of the Enlightenment rarely made apparent: that of the Kennerin, the ideal female musical connoisseur representing historical notions of womanhood.


“Can Cleofide Speak? Intersections of Gender and Colonial Discourse in Handel’s Poro re dell’Indie(Anushka Kulkarni, University of California, Davis)

Dramatizing the clash between Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great and King Porus, who ruled portions of modern-day Punjab during the former’s fourth-century BCE Indian Campaign, Handel’s Poro re dell’Indie (1731) stands as an insightful example of opera seria’s engagement in narratives and histories of eighteenth-century imperial conquest. In this paper, I focus on the opera’s heroine Cleofide, a politically astute Indian queen and Poro’s betrothed. I ask how her musical-dramatic representation participates in discourses concerning British-Indian colonial encounter and the contingent formations of western selfhood and nonwestern Otherness. My approach to Handel’s score and libretto builds upon Edward Said and Ralph Locke’s work on orientalist discourse analysis. I consider how Handel adapts historical accounts of colonial encounter in antiquity to allegorize contemporary ideologies entrenched in projects of imperialism and colonialism in India. Furthermore, my analysis examines how Handel, through intertextual allusions to Ovid’s Metamorphoses and its cultural reception in eighteenth-century England, contextualizes Cleofide within a repository of historical, literary, and theatrical heroines. Although political readings of Handel opera abound, time is ripe for a postcolonial approach to the politics of imperialism and colonialism in his life and works. Drawing eighteenth-century European writings on India together with frameworks from subaltern studies, I ultimately demonstrate a contrapuntal reading of Poro re dell’Indie that foregrounds both the opera’s entanglement in English metropolitan and colonial pasts, and the intersectionality of gender and racial Otherness.


“‘This god speaks with my voice’: Cupid Singers in French Opera(Anita Hardeman, Western Illinois University)

Between 1728 and 1748, the god Cupid flourished on the Parisian opera stage, appearing in thirty different works. Yet his performers, almost exclusively women, did not experience the same level of prosperity. Drawn from the lowest salary tier of the Paris Opéra’s hierarchical employment structure, these singers struggled with financial precarity, social condemnation, and restrictive administrative practices as they attempted to make a living as performers. I argue that taking on the role of Cupid, a rare example of female-to-male cross-dressing on the French operatic stage, served an important function in the career of these singers. The presentation of Cupid within a context of desire established these performers as desirable themselves, potentially attracting the attention of wealthy patrons who could help alleviate the financial, social, and work challenges they faced.

This study focuses on four singers active in the 1730s and 40s: Marie Fel, Marie-Angélique Couppé, and Mllles Bourbonnais and Petitpas. Through an examination of the texts and music which these women performed, supplemented by contemporary reports, I build a more comprehensive picture of their abilities and working conditions, including the benefits and detriments of the patronage system, as well as the ways in which these women navigated the world as professional musicians. I am currently finishing a scholarly article on this topic.

In this study, I present voices that were lost, discarded, and suppressed, and reclaim a space for them, by situating these women in relation to the works they performed, the restrictions they faced, and the obstacles they encountered, thereby deepening our understanding of the importance of performers to the musical-historical narrative.

0 people are interested in this event

User Activity

No recent activity