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Understanding the Women of Mozart’s Operas

Kristi Brown-Montesano (Author)

Available worldwide

Hardcover, 341 pages
ISBN: 9780520248021
February 2007
$85.00, £62.95
Other Formats Available:
Is The Marriage of Figaro just about Figaro? Is Don Giovanni’s story the only one—or even the most interesting one—in the opera that bears his name? For generations of critics, historians, and directors, it’s Mozart’s men who have mattered most. Too often, the female characters have been understood from the male protagonist’s point of view or simply reduced on stage (and in print) to paper cutouts from the age of the powdered wig and the tightly cinched corset. It’s time to give Mozart’s women—and Mozart’s multi-dimensional portrayals of feminine character—their due. In this lively book, Kristi Brown-Montesano offers a detailed exploration of the female roles in Mozart’s four most frequently performed operas, Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte, and Die Zauberflöte. Each chapter takes a close look at the music, libretto text, literary sources, and historical factors that give shape to a character, re-evaluating common assumptions and proposing fresh interpretations.

Brown-Montesano views each character as the subject of a story, not merely the object of a hero’s narrative or the stock figure of convention. From amiable Zerlina, to the awesome Queen of the Night, to calculating Despina, all of Mozart’s women have something unique to say. These readings also tackle provocative social, political, and cultural issues, which are used in the operas to define positive and negative images of femininity: revenge, power, seduction, resistance, autonomy, sacrifice, faithfulness, class, maternity, and sisterhood. Keenly aware of the historical gap between the origins of these works and contemporary culture, Brown-Montesano discusses how attitudes about such concepts—past and current—influence our appreciation of these fascinating representations of women.

Act One: (Anti-)Heroines and Women on the Edge
1. Feminine Vengeance I: The Assailed/Assailant
Donna Anna
2. Sisterhood and Seduction I: Abandonment and Rescue
Donna Elvira
3. Class Survival
4. Feminine Vengeance II: (Over)Powered Politics
The Queen of the Night
5. Good Daughter, Good Wife
6. Woman’s Identity I: Sacred and Profane
The Three Ladies and Papagena

Act Two: Sisterly Alliances and Sisters Subverted
7. Sisterhood and Seduction II: Friendship and Class
Countess Almaviva and Susanna
8. Woman’s Identity II: Loss and Legitimacy
Marcellina and Barbarina
9. Sisterhood and Seduction III: Intimacy and Influence
Fiordiligi and Dorabella
10. Survival Class

Works Cited
Kristi Brown-Montesano is head of the music-history faculty at the Colburn Conservatory in Los Angeles, California.
“An interesting, unique, well-written study.”—Choice
“Brown-Montesano has set out to write something that will be of value to directors and singers in search of a character and general opera lovers who simply want to understand more about Mozart. This lively, perceptive study succeeds brilliantly on all counts.”—Richard Fawkes Classical Music Magazine
"This is a remarkably original, persuasive, and well-written book. The literary and psychological interpretations of these fictional but semi-legendary women are astute and well-presented, so that even casual lovers of Mozart's operas can absorb and learn useful things. In every case, Brown's detailed analyses of these famous female characters enlarges their human and dramatic potential far beyond their inherited and stereotypical roles. They emerge from Brown's reinterpretation as considerably more complex and interesting than one may have imagined them. This is a rich and rewarding reading experience."—David Littlejohn, author of The Ultimate Art: Essays Around and About Opera

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