This article delves into the puzzling reception of opera singer Luigia Todi (1753–1833) in order to explore how the traces left by pre-phonographic voices contain long-forgotten cultural histories. Operagoers in 1790s Venice claimed that Todi’s moral qualities allowed her to overcome her “vocal defects,” and, in turn, taught her listeners to become good citizens. Hearing vocal difficulties as a manifestation of interiority, rather than as poor training, marked a significant departure from what were then the predominant aesthetics of operatic voice. In attempting to smooth over this gap, listeners pieced together narratives about Todi’s subjectivity based on the unstable, fragmented sounds of her voice. This article argues that such remediations of Todi’s singing were subtended by two seemingly irreconcilable ontologies of female voice, one of them rooted in ancient myths of sublime song and the other born of Enlightenment ideologies of domesticity. I thus read inscriptions of Todi’s voice through a network of late eighteenth-century Italian cultural anxieties, drawing on literary reimaginings of Sappho, debates over the nature of musical skill, discourses on women’s education, and more. By interrogating the narratives about one woman’s unusual voice, I offer a new origin story for still resonant assumptions about the relationships between gender and disability, politics and domestic labor, and, fundamentally, bodies and voices.

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