Document Type

Honors Project - Open Access


The female protagonist’s mad scene, since coming into true vogue in the early nineteenth-century Italian opera tradition, has been prized for its dramatic and poignant emotive qualities. This project explores four nineteenth-century mad scenes; Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor (1835), Bellini’s I Puritani (1835), Meyerbeer’s Dinorah (1859), and Verdi’s Macbeth (1847), surveying the literature of each scene and providing formal analysis of musical attributes such as harmony, melodic structure, and formal design, all in comparison to generic operatic conventions. Musical elements generally associated with the operatic madwoman include the orchestral recollection of significant past themes, virtuosic coloratura lines, and the presence of imagined voices, all of which serve to propel her into an alternate realm of happiness, escape, and, arguably, potential liberation from social and musical confines. In interpreting compositional choices in these scenes, I pay special attention to the Kantian dichotomy of phenomenal and noumenal realms (i.e., our perceived reality versus the "thing in itself", an entity in its true form, which cannot be perceived by human senses), as discussed by Gary Tomlinson in his book Metaphysical Song: An Essay on Opera (1999). Analyses of these scenes enable us to determine how composers and society observed and portrayed the madwoman, her fervid personality, and distinctive power.

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