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9 - Commanding Performances: Opera, Surrogation and the Royal Sublime in 1848

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 April 2020

Sarah Hibberd
Affiliation:
University of Bristol
Miranda Stanyon
Affiliation:
King's College London
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Summary

This chapter explores the links between opera’s sublime mode and political power through two case studies from London in 1848: a 4 May performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s La sonnambula at Her Majesty’s Theatre and a 20 July performance of Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots at Covent Garden. In these instances, the sublime was routed mainly through the star singer-actresses Jenny Lind and Pauline Viardot-Garcia respectively, whose performances were judged immeasurably moving and powerful by several critics and fans. But in each case Queen Victoria, too, carried her aura of ‘natural power’ into the performative circuit: with Lind, through demonstrative gestures of royal protection; with Viardot, through the framing of Les Huguenots as a ‘command performance’. This chapter argues that at each performance the queen and diva, supported by their respective entourages, formed a circuit in which the ‘command’ of the opera diva and the queen’s innate sovereignty mutually constituted, or ‘surrogated’, one other.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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