Interpreting the Italian Voice in London (and Elsewhere)

Author: Vellutini, Claudio

Publication details: “Interpreting Italian Singing in London (and Elsewhere).” In London Voices, 1820-1840, edited by Roger Parker and Susan Rutherford, 51–69. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2019.


Abstract: An enduring and ever-changing trope, the notion of the “Italian voice” became a contentious subject in the opera discourse across Europe during the first half of the nineteenth century. While the dissemination of national ideas increasingly challenged the still ubiquitous presence of Italian singers, Italian vocal pedagogy was institutionalized in conservatories often with the overt intent of cultivating “native” professionals. Yet the extent to which vocal aesthetics of different national pedigrees could be reconciled in the operatic practice of the time remained a major point of debate. In this paper, I focus on how in London in particular discussions of the Italian voice often departed from close examinations of Italian singers of the time. I argue, rather, that they intersected with and informed opinions about how the development of a high-brow kind of English opera should be modeled upon the essentially lyrical nature of Italian opera. By drawing on a number of printed materials on vocal aesthetics, pedagogy, and opera genres, I aim to trace some of the ways in which the construction of the idea of the Italian voice in London participated in a rather fluid discourse that acknowledged the permeability of national and foreign cultures rather than treating them as mutually exclusive.