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The operatic scandal of the singing body: Voice, presence, performativity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 March 2005


This essay addresses the materiality of voice in opera production, proposing a shift away from methodological models that posit voice as silent and disembodied towards one in which the body figures central. Comparing the voice in opera with the voice of the performative utterance, the article assesses the relevance of performativity to opera studies. A distinction between Derrida's critique of the ‘metaphysics of presence’ and the presence of performance leads to a discussion of the ‘force’ of the vocal utterance and its relationship to the real via Shoshana Felman's The Scandal of the Speaking Body. The central argument is that voice upsets the model of distanced reason upon which enlightened subjectivity depends.

Regular Articles
© 2004 Cambridge University Press

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This article could not have been written without the material and intellectual support of a number of people to whom I am most grateful: David Bathrick, Markus Boeggemann, Joseph Campana, Heather Hadlock, Biddy Martin, Rebecca Schneider, Emanuele Senici, Mary Ann Smart, Michael Steinberg and Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg.