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The University of Southampton
Southampton Centre for Nineteenth-Century Research

The Peasant’s Throat: Ouida’s Vocal Underclass on the European Operatic Stage Seminar

16:00 - 18:00
13 November 2019
Building 4, Room 4005 Highfield Campus University of Southampton Southampton SO17 1BJ

For more information regarding this seminar, please email Dr Aude Campmas at .

Event details

Part of the 2019-20 seminar series

Known mainly today for her risqué novels featuring European aristocrats (Under Two Flags and Moths are currently her best known in Western academe), Ouida (1839-1908) was perhaps even better known during her lifetime for her novels and short stories of peasant life. Like most of her work, they circulated in many parts of the world either in English or in translation in volume and serial forms. One single-volume novel in particular, Two Little Wooden Shoes (1874) inspired no fewer than three operatic adaptations in French, Italian and Hungarian (the latter with German alternative), while another single-volume novel, Don Gesualdo (1886) and a triple-decker, Signa (1875) were also turned into operas respectively by a Belgian (in French) and by a British composer (with an originally Italian libretto for La Scala later adapted into English for Covent Garden). There has been some work on the numerous plays based on Ouida’s fiction, but these five operas, all of which deal with peasant life, have remained almost entirely neglected.

Using musical extracts especially recorded for this research, this paper will explore the very varied approaches to the problems Ouida’s peasant fiction posed for the transnational and national operatic stage, problems which show the limits of what was representable on the stage compared to the page in various parts of Europe. Particular attention will be paid to the spaces and performers for which the very varied operas were written and the effects these had on the alteration of Ouida’s characters and plot, especially in terms of gender and class. 

In terms of methodology, the research is keen to show how, in the nineteenth century just as today, different genres, languages, media and media industries were not isolated from one another, but interacted with each other to offer the promise of a total “European” cultural experience, even while contradicting one another. Comparison between versions highlights the different meanings that different social conditions and artistic conventions preferred.

Speaker information

Professor Andrew King, University of Greenwich. Professor of English Literature and Literary Studies

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