The attraction of objects has motivated a swerve within the humanities—a move away from texts and exegesis, linguistics, and semiotics; a move toward the body, the senses, materiality, and physiology. A musical instrument, a scientific artifact, a collection of sounds, an antique postcard: yes, all these objects are expressive and sometimes aesthetically pleasing, and in being so they can be understood to embody an epistemology, with theories and realms of knowledge written into their every contour. Or they can be understood as traces of global exchange and displacement. But what if the object is not very good, not loveable at all? Crumbling, toxic paper or banal images, with no exit from a strange historical or cultural space, perhaps an uncomfortable space to which you feel averse (or at least, feel you should disdain, as beneath contempt)? Or what if the object is misdirecting? What if it is ephemeral, like sound, something that cannot be held? These questions are woven in this essay into a reflection on the forms taken by certain loves for opera, a reflection centered on some nineteenth-century material objects that relate to act 4 of Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera Les Huguenots (1836).
Certain Loves for Opera
Carolyn Abbate is Paul and Catherine Buttenwieser University Professor at Harvard University, where she teaches in the Music Department. She works on opera, Western music philosophy, and sound objects and artifacts; with Roger Parker, she co-authored A History of Opera: The Last 400 Years (2015). Current research centers on mischievous sound technologies and acoustic devices from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and their place in histories of hearing and mishearing.
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Carolyn Abbate; Certain Loves for Opera. Representations 1 May 2021; 154 (1): 47–68. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/rep.2021.154.5.47
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